Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is looking at ways to strengthen the vetting process for the next governor general after his choice for the job — Julie Payette — resigned yesterday following reports she presided over a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall.
Trudeau faced multiple questions from reporters today about the vetting process he followed in appointing Payette back in 2017, and the red flags raised by former employers about her behaviour.
“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,” he said outside his home at Rideau Cottage, not far from Rideau Hall.
“We are looking right now at processes that can be strengthened as we move forward and we will have more to say on that as we make decisions.”
WATCH | Trudeau is asked why Payette wasn’t thoroughly vetted before being appointed GG
In an unprecedented move, Payette and her secretary, Assunta di Lorenzo, resigned Thursday after an outside workplace review of Rideau Hall probed allegations she had belittled, berated and publicly humiliated Rideau Hall staff.
“Notwithstanding, in respect for the integrity of my vice-regal office and for the good of our country and of our democratic institutions, I have come to the conclusion that a new governor general should be appointed,” the former astronaut wrote in her statement.
A senior government source (speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly) said about 100 public servants took part in the outside review.
The report concluded it was an overwhelmingly toxic and poisonous workplace and the two people at the very top, Payette and Di Lorenzo, were responsible for it, the source said.
PM and Queen spoke today
The source also said Payette received parts of the report that pertained to her on Monday and that the clerk of the Privy Council and Privy Council President Dominic LeBlanc had a tense conversation with her on Tuesday.
Speaking from prepared remarks, Trudeau said he spoke to the Queen Friday morning and let her know Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner will fulfil the duties of the governor general — her representative in Canada — on a temporary basis.
He said a recommendation on Payette’s replacement is coming.
Trudeau was asked repeatedly today about his decision to not use a selection committee in 2017, something his predecessor implemented.
“We will continue to the look at the best way to select people for the vice regal appointments. It is an important role for Canadians and we’ll look at how we can improve it,” he said.
WATCH Jagmeet Singh on Payette resignation
Conservative House leader Gérard Deltell said this could have been avoided if Trudeau hadn’t shunned the Harper-era committee.
“This is all sad, but it’s so Justin Trudeau’s style,” he said. “He thinks that he knows better than anybody else, than the special committee created by the Conservatives. But we were right at that time. We made the right decision, he did the wrong decision and unfortunately, today we paid a price for this mess.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh suggested other parties be brought into the process of selecting the official 30th governor general.
“The system is deeply problematic in that the federal government, whoever’s in power, can choose who they want,” he said Friday morning.
“I think there would be a great benefit in having a better system…so that the selection is not just a government appointment, but it’s something that is done in a manner that is more fair.”
Questions about annuity
Payette will collect a six-figure annuity for the rest of her life, a tradition critics are calling into question given the report on the Rideau Hall workplace climate — a report LeBlanc said came to some “disturbing” and “worrisome” conclusions.
Under the Governor General’s Act, former vice-regals are entitled to a lifetime annuity — which, according to the 2020 Public Accounts, amounts to $149,484.
They are also entitled to a lifetime expense program for office and travel expenses.
Documents obtained by the National Post in 2018 show that each former governor general is allowed to claim up to $206,000 per year under the program, which has existed since 1979 and is based on the notion that governors general never truly retire.
“This country has very clear rules and regulations and processes and procedures in place to follow in these cases of reporting expenses, or indeed on annuities for governor generals,” Trudeau said Friday.
“Those processes will be followed, but obviously we’re always open to having discussions on changes that need to be made moving forward.”
A spokesperson for the NDP said that if there’s a way to cancel Payette’s annuity, New Democrats would support it since Payette failed to provide a harassment-free workplace for her workers.
WATCH | Trudeau is asked about the annuity Julie Payette will receive after her resignation
“With respect to the annuity, I think that Canadians, rightly so, are concerned that given this report and how horrible the workers were treated, that this doesn’t sit well with people,” said Singh.
In a statement, the outspoken Canadian Taxpayers Federation called on the Liberal government to change the way former governors general are paid.
“With the resignation of Julie Payette, now is the time for this government to ensure that taxpayers are not on the hook for the expense accounts of former governors general,” said Aaron Wudrick, the advocacy group’s director.
“Two years ago, the prime minister said he would ‘review’ this program. Nothing has happened since. It’s time to save taxpayers money by scrapping this outrageously wasteful program.”
In 2018, following reports that Adrienne Clarkson had billed more than $1 million in expenses since leaving the viceregal job, Trudeau called for more transparency.
“These are people who’ve stepped up and offered tremendous service to this country but Canadians expect a certain level of transparency and accountability, and we’re going to make sure we’re moving forward in a thoughtful way,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Privy Council said the final cost of the Quintet Consulting review was $393,367.13, nearly four times higher than the original value of the contract. The original terms of reference of the contract did say the amount could change depending on how long the review took.