It turns out that there are some qualifications required for the post of governor-general. A willingness to live at Rideau Hall. An understanding that the viceregal personage mustn’t go AWOL from the RCMP on a morning jog. A modicum of grace in dealing with underlings.
And so Julie Payette, who seemed to tick all the symbolic boxes for a viceregal appointment, had to go because she lacked the personal qualifications. Her tenure is now marked by one notable success: She left before anyone had to call the Queen.
That does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a big favour, in that the complaints about Ms. Payette won’t keep festering any longer, and he won’t have to engage in the messy business of figurative vice-regicide by calling Buckingham Palace to ask for her ouster.
But it is still a singular and unprecedented failure that falls at the feet of Mr. Trudeau.
Back in 2017, when he picked the former astronaut, Mr. Trudeau and his advisers were apparently so enthralled with ticking those symbolic boxes, of installing the candidate who neatly fit the image, that they obviously didn’t do enough to check on who she really was.
That’s a very Trudeau kind of mistake.
Most Canadians don’t have too clear a picture of what the governor-general does, or should be, but you can be pretty sure they don’t like to think of the Queen’s representative in Canada as someone who uses the viceregal position to harass and berate employees. People make allowances for the cognitive dissonance of elevating a fellow Canadian into the gilded cage, but not for displays of entitlement.
The complaints that were aired in media, that she berated employees, verbally abused some until they cried, and created a toxic workplace, weren’t automatic firing offences, but they embarrassed the institution. The report that just landed, internally, was said to be scathing, though the government swept the details under the rug. Ms. Payette – without really accepting blame – decided it was time to move on.
Less than four years ago, she was Mr. Trudeau’s celebrity pick. A former astronaut, an accomplished woman, bilingual, someone who already had schools named after her. On the surface, she was the very image of the modern governor-general the still-newish Trudeau Liberals wanted.
But we now know that proper vetting might have shown her temperament was ill suited for the job. She didn’t want to live at Rideau Hall. She bristled at being followed by security, and reportedly took off for a jog without telling the RCMP. The National Police Federation took the unusual step Thursday of saying it hopes that now, RCMP members will be able to experience a more positive work environment.
Mr. Trudeau’s advisers may have felt there were good explanations for the fact that Ms. Payette had been charged with assault in 2011, and the charge, after all, was dropped.
But Mr. Trudeau’s advisers obviously didn’t do enough to poke into her history heading the Montreal Science Centre, whose former employees have told reporters she was a harsh boss, or at the Canadian Olympic Committee, where she faced workplace complaints. The Trudeau team failed to discover her poor marks in the important category of “works well with others.”
To make matters worse, when she was appointed, she was allowed to bring a friend, Assunta di Lorenzo, to work as her deputy. The person in that post, secretary to the governor-general, which had previously been held by seasoned senior civil servants, is responsible for professionalism in the office, and presumably, for keeping governors-general from haranguing the staff. Instead of the officials of an institution, this governor-general was allowed the entourage of a star.
When the rumours of tantrums started to circulate in Ottawa, the official who would normally be expected to do something about it was Ms. Payette’s hand-picked sidekick.
It’s too much, of course, to ask that the government of the day foresee future problems with every appointee. But Mr. Trudeau’s team, salivating over their celebrity pick, glossed over its responsibility to vet the temperament of the person who would be the ceremonial commander-in-chief and, in rare but possible circumstances, the arbiter of constitutional convention. It turns out not everyone is suited to the job.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.