Julie Payette is forced to resign amidst a ‘scathing’ report on her workplace conduct
By Craig Allan, Business Manager
Payette chose to resign, avoiding a possible constitutional crisis.
In July 2020, a report from CBC’s Ashley Burke showcased a culture of toxicity and harassment in the workplace that stemmed from Governor General Julie Payette. This included everything from verbal harassments to outright bullying. The Privy Council Office (PCO) announced in September that it would do a formal inquiry on the allegations and produce a report on their findings. That report was completed last week, and while it was not released to the public immediately, insiders who saw it said it was so damning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to act.
Payette either had to formally resign the position, or Trudeau would be forced to contact Canada’s Head of State, (Queen Elizabeth II) and formally ask her to remove Payette. Payette chose to resign, avoiding a possible constitutional crisis.
On Wednesday January 27, the report was released to the public through a Freedom of Information Act request, and despite being heavily redacted, showed the stress and struggle that occurred in the Governor Generals office. Forty three people in the office reported to have had a “hostile or negative” experience working for the government, and less than 10 reported “positive or neutral” feelings. Many employees reported that they had to take paid leave in order to get away from the abuse. There were also reported cases of physical abuse brought on by Payette.
Payette’s Press Secretary reported that no one had ever gone to the Human Resources (HR) department to lodge any formal complaints as a showing of the scandal being overblown, but many said the issue with that was the HR office was a “closed loop” because any complaints that went to HR would go to Payette’s secretary, Assunta Di Lorenzo, a long time friend of Payette’s (who has also since resigned from her position) who would take the reports right to her.
Prime Minister Trudeau is also facing scrutiny for the hiring of Payette. When it came time for Trudeau to pick a new Governor General, he had the option of assistance from a council set up by his predecessor, Stephen Harper, to help with the vetting process. Trudeau decided to forgo the council in favour of Payette, who had been inquiring about a representative job in government. Trudeau wanted Payette because she held many demographics Trudeau admired. She was a female astronaut, of which Trudeau liked for his desire to get more women into science, technology, engineering, and mechanics jobs, and has a French-Canadian background.
In the wake of her resignation and the earlier WE Charity scandal, which also consisted of vetting issues, questions have been brought about the Trudeau governments on their vetting abilities. Much like in the WE Charity scandal, Trudeau also stood by the vetting process in this case, stating “Obviously the vetting process that was in place was followed, but obviously we’re going to also look at ways we can strengthen and improve the vetting process for high-level appointments.” Payette had to previously document instances of being let go from a position for conduct reasons.
Trudeau also avoided formally apologising to Rideau Hall staffers and Canadians by saying that his government believes that all Canadians are intitled to a workplace “that are free and safe from harassment and in which people can do their important jobs in safety and security.”
Until a new Governor General can be found, Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner will assume the role of acting Governor General. A new Governor General may need to be found quickly, as there are rumours that minority government Liberals under Trudeau are contemplating an election for some point this year, and since a PM needs to go to the Governor General to dissolve Parliament, Trudeau will likely want to have his choice installed before making the decision to call an election.
There are already think pieces on the internet about who should be the next Governor General, with everyone from non-serious answers like Ryan Reynolds, to the recently abdicated Prince Harry. The next Governor General will have to foster a new working environment in Rideau Hall, because with the Governor General’s position being the highest office in Canada, and the scrutiny that will come with the choice after this most recent scandal—there is little room for error.