Three years into her tenure as Canada’s 29th Governor-General, I think I’ve finally figured out how Julie Payette landed a job for which she appears so ill-suited, and really, doesn’t seem to much enjoy.
What must have happened – if I may don my monocle and sleuth hat for a moment – is that an intern at the Prime Minister’s Office erroneously offered her the job after accidentally mixing up the “Yes” and “No” piles of candidate names to become the governor-general. The intern, horrified by his mistake, then persuaded his identical twin brother to fill in for him for the rest of the day rather than fess up to the error, which turned Parliament Hill into a Parent Trap redux.
The hijinks were likely facilitated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision not to use the Harper-era Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments to make the selection – an unusual move for a government inclined to strike a committee to decide what to order for lunch. But that relic of the previous administration just had to be discarded, along with anti-democratic omnibus legislation and the cynical use of prorogation to achieve political ends.
And since the decision was centralized within the PMO, the conditions were such that this blundering yet affable office intern could accidentally offer the wrong astronaut the role of commander-in-chief and representative of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Upon learning of the error, and mortified by the mistake, the Prime Minister had no choice but to go along with the appointment, leaving Roberta Bondar languishing on hold to this very day.
That, I believe, is how Canada got Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, and why Rideau Hall staffers have been breaking out in night sweats and reciting the planets in their sleep since 2017.
Now, skeptical readers might consider the above theory patently absurd. But the only other explanation that would result in the current mess at Rideau Hall – the high staff turnover rate, the troubled atmosphere as chronicled by the Public Service Employee Survey, the third-party investigation into harassment complaints, $140,000 spent on plans for a private staircase to keep out the plebs – is that no one in the PMO bothered to really vet Ms. Payette before offering her the role.
But that’s impossible! How could they not know of issues at her former workplaces – of alleged complaints of verbal harassment and poor treatment of staff at the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Montreal Science Centre and Canada Lands Co., as per reporting by the CBC?
Or else, perhaps there’s the explanation that the federal government did, in fact, vet her and knew about her past workplace issues, and proceeded with the appointment anyway. But that, of course, would be even more absurd. Indeed, prospective employers will call for references when candidates apply for jobs to sweep popcorn from under movie theatre seats. Surely the PMO would do its due diligence when appointing someone to the second-highest office in Canada.
Indeed, the Prime Minister had to have known that it takes more than an impressive résumé, about which Ms. Payette can certainly boast, to properly serve as Canada’s governor-general. That to fill the role properly is to maintain a certain deference to tradition and protocol, to embrace the public spotlight, to use discretion only for when it is specifically called – such as, for example, when a government loses the confidence of the House and the Prime Minister requests the dissolution of Parliament. He must have understood that the role was not about using that discretion to ad-lib during a Throne Speech, or to poke fun at people who believe in creationism, or to try to escape her RCMP detail.
Surely, Ms. Payette, who decided to take the job within 24 hours of the PMO’s request, would have recognized that there are certain expectations of the person who serves as Canada’s governor-general. And the PMO, in its definitely thorough vetting of Ms. Payette’s personal history, her employment history and her general disposition, would have of course recognized that Ms. Payette may work best with others only when they exist in a different orbit.
That is why we can be confident that this whole thing is just one big zany mistake. Of course, the Prime Minister’s Office looked beyond Ms. Payette’s gender, her six languages, her STEM background and how she fit so perfectly with the image the government was then trying to portray, and recognized that for the role of Canada’s governor-general, Ms. Payette simply wasn’t suited.
The blame, we can thus deduce, lies squarely with an office intern who must have carelessly mixed up the candidate piles and offered Ms. Payette the job in error. Hopefully, when that intern moves on to his next job, his prospective employer will thoroughly check his references.
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