Based on her actions since taking office, Julie Payette comes across as someone who never even wanted to be Canada’s Governor General, or at least didn’t understand the public profile the job would require.
Despite that, however, she seems stubbornly insistent on remaining in the position.
Only the Queen can remove a Governor General, and it’s the sort of thing that is obviously rather unprecedented and certainly not ideal. The prime minister could ask Payette to resign, but she’s under no obligation to heed such a request.
Between the indifference, the lavish spending, and — most seriously — the allegations of a toxic workplace, we are approaching an untenable situation and may well even be past that point.
For the good of the country, for the good of the position itself, and even for the sake of the reputation and legacy that Payette built up prior to 2017, she should resign.
On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said public office holders should be mindful of how they spend taxpayer dollars. Freeland’s comments followed a CBC report that alleges the Governor General spent more than $250,000 on renovations that aim to boost her personal privacy in her official residence, Rideau Hall.
What makes these outrageous costs even more egregious is the fact that Payette doesn’t even live at Rideau Hall. It’s now been three years since she was appointed and she still doesn’t reside in the Governor General’s official residence.
Gov. Gen. Payette ‘welcomes’ probe into harassment claims
There have been all sorts of reports through Payette’s tenure about how much she values her privacy and how much she bristles at many of the public responsibilities that being Governor General entail. In a way, I can sympathize, as I’m sure many Canadians can. But if that’s part of your nature, then perhaps being Governor General isn’t the job for you. No one forced Payette to take the job and she’s free to leave at any point.
One can imagine that it might be uncomfortable working for a Governor General who doesn’t even wish to be seen by her employees. However, the accounts of what it’s like to work in Payette’s office are much more disturbing.
Numerous current and former employees have come forward with allegations of workplace bullying and harassment. One former employee told Global News that “right from the beginning, I was appalled at what was going on,” and that “the atmosphere, the vibe, the stress, the constant barrage, it was just … it was unbearable.”
Payette has denied the allegations and the Privy Council Office has launched an independent review. But accepting Payette’s side of the story leaves us with two troubling explanations: that either all of these people are lying (and why would they do that?); or that she believes it’s acceptable to publicly berate and humiliate her employees.
The alleged mistreatment of employees is an incredibly serious issue irrespective of any other controversies or criticisms surrounding the Governor General. If a cabinet minister were accused of similarly creating such a toxic workplace for his or her staff, it would most definitely be a fireable offence.
The difference here is the importance of the institution and its relevance to Canadians. If a cabinet minister were fired for this sort of thing, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about whether Canadians still believe in that cabinet position. But that cynicism is a very real threat when it comes to the position of Governor General.
If the current holder of the job seems indifferent, then it’s understandable why Canadians might, too.
The Governor General is provided an official residence, all kinds of perks, and an annual salary of $288,900. According to a 2018 access to information request by researcher Ken Rubin that was reported in the National Post, on leaving office, the Governor General receives a retirement annuity valued at just over $140,000 annually. If a Governor General is seen as cavalier when it comes to taxpayers’ money, then taxpayers might understandably question the value of the position.
Canadians deserve better and, frankly, Rideau Hall and its employees deserve better. We need a new Governor General.