Governor General resigns after harassment investigation

Former Governor General Julie Payette Wikipedia Commons

Payette created toxic environment

Governor General Julie Payette has officially resigned following a review of workplace harassment allegations that began last year. The independent investigation, which began in September at the request of the Privy Council Office, has also led to the resignation of Payette’s secretary, Assunta di Lorenzo. The turbulent environment Payette and di Lorenzo created for co-workers, RCMP, and guests of Rideau Hall have raised questions about Payette’s fitness for the role and whether she was properly vetted prior to the appointment. Rideau Hall has lost over a dozen employees throughout the pandemic alone who have left due to harassment claims. 

Payette’s letter of resignation says that although no formal complaint about her behaviour was made, she does take the allegations against her seriously and has, throughout the investigation process, encouraged staff to participate in the review. 

“Tensions have arisen at Rideau Hall over the past few months and for that, I am sorry,” stated Payette. 

The allegations first surfaced in a CBC article published last July. Multiple workers came forward anonymously to report that Payette and di Lorenzo had presided over a toxic and verbally abusive workplace environment. Many employees had been witness to Payette’s explosive yelling at co-workers. It is also alleged that Payette, a former astronaut, criticized employees’ lack of knowledge or understanding about outer space, a subject completely unrelated to meeting agendas. The aftermath of many belittling and humiliating episodes – which complainants say usually happened in full view of their coworkers – concluded with employees shaken or found crying in their vehicles. The employees who did come forward to speak choose to remain anonymous. They feared the toxic climate would only escalate if their names were released. 

The role of the governor general is the second most important role within government. Appointed by the queen on the prime minister’s advice, the governor general’s appointment typically lasts for five years. The governor general is accountable for dissolving Parliament and calling a federal election if needed. In September, amidst the swirl of allegations, Payette delivered the first pandemic-era throne speech. The Governor General is responsible for promoting a healthy democracy and representing national identity within Canada. They meet with foreign world leaders representing Canada as a national entity and promoting Canadian ideals. The role is also responsible for the arts, sports, and culture of Canada. They listen to the concerns of Canadians and calls attention to them. From royal visitors to community events, the Governor General needs to welcome those on behalf of Canada. 

For someone in such a visible role, Payette has often shown discomfort in public interactions. Not only have tantrums been reported in office, but also on foreign trips while representing Canada. Canada-based non-profits like St. John’s Ambulance and Scouts Canada expressed disappointment that Payette did not perform the traditional practice of honouring their organizations. More than three years into her five-year mandate, Payette still hadn’t moved into Rideau Hall, the traditional residence of governor generals. Instead, Payette took up residence in the nearby 7 Rideau Gate, a mansion usually used to house visiting dignitaries. 

While the massive amount of public relations work required by the governor general’s role can be taxing, Payette’s unresponsive attitude towards serving the governor general requirements raised concerns, in particular her long refusal to move into Rideau Hall and the extensive renovations that were undertaken in order to entice her to do so. The Rideau Hall grounds are open to the public to enjoy; however, Payette expressed discomfort with the constant entering and exiting of visitors.  

The stairwell project is one of the unnecessary and publicly-funded renovations used to persuade Payette to move into the Governor General’s residence. The project began as a cat door for Payette’s cats before morphing into a private unseen exit so she wouldn’t have to speak with maintenance workers. The project ultimately expanded to a private staircase for Payette with a private patio area for herself. The plan was made more complex by the problems of making it compatible with the heritage building. It was never completed, despite racking up nearly $140,000 in expenses. On top of the staircase project, multiple gates were constructed to keep visitors away from her living quarters at a cost of $117,000. 

The costs of renovations have resulted in the waste of many taxpayer dollars. Not only is the price of construction wasteful, but the intent behind them demonstrates pretentious values. Payette’s discomfort about Rideau Hall shows her disdain for workers and the public. 

Payette expressed concerns over security, given the public nature of Rideau Hall, but also disregarded the RCMP’s protection. Additional officers had to be added to many foreign trips to keep Payette from slipping away. At times, the RCMP detail assigned for Payette’s protection was left scrambling to find her whereabouts after she disappeared for a run without notifying officials. 

The complaints against Payette and her resignation have raised questions as to why she was appointed in the first place. While Payette has a sterling reputation as an astronaut and engineer, she has a known history of being difficult to work with, something that should have been a massive red flag for someone being considered for a front-facing role like governor general.

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