There was inevitable fallout from the resignation of governor-general Julie Payette, but honestly, who expected it to include a move by politicians to strip pensions from public office holders who are bad bosses, ill-suited for their role, or widely seen as diminishing their institutions?
There is a boatload of clichéd adages to warn against such a grandstand play by opposition MPs, starting with the one about glass houses and stones and including the tactical advice attributed to Napoleon: Never interfere with your enemy when he is destroying himself.
Yet for some reason Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole decided to back the dumb and unworkable idea of stripping Ms. Payette’s pension.
Justin Trudeau was suffering through days of blame for appointing Ms. Payette – who resigned after an internal review that found she made Rideau Hall into a toxic workplace – without proper prior vetting and after he disbanded an advisory board tasked with reviewing candidates.
The Prime Minister could do nothing but take his lumps. Mr. O’Toole didn’t have to do much other than frown at the poor vetting and disbanded committee, as he did, and ask Mr. Trudeau how he can defend the indefensible.
Instead he created a diversion by calling for Ms. Payette’s annual pension – an annuity set by legislation – be stripped. After all, she had resigned. And she brought disrepute to her office.
As it turns out, Mr. O’Toole got a bit of bad luck, or bad timing, too: Senator Lynn Beyak, a former Conservative appointed by Stephen Harper, decided to announced she was resigning, after years of controversy over her defence of residential schools.
It was not only a reminder that the Conservatives had some of their own badly chosen disaster appointees, notably Mr. Harper’s senatorial fails, but also that the pension-stripping business can go on and on, in many cases – especially if we don’t recognize the problem is PMs casually appointing bad candidates in the first place.
Ms. Beyak had just resigned, and was obviously someone who brought her office into disrepute in the eyes of many of her colleagues – who had launched a process to expel her from the Red Chamber. It’s a good bet that many folks would want to strip her of her Senate pension, too.
There were calls to strip former senator Don Meredith, who resigned in controversy after the Senate ethics officer reported he started a relationship with a 16-year-old girl.
Mr. Harper’s government actually changed laws to stop pension accruals from adding up for three suspended senators accused of excessive expense-claiming, including Mike Duffy, but they got that back later – after Mr. Duffy was acquitted of fraud charges, and a judge found Mr. Harper’s Prime Minister’s Office was using him for damage control.
Let’s skip the pandering impulse to put people in stocks in the town square by taking away their pensions. Retirement benefits are supposed to be protected from most legal claims.
Ms. Payette is reported to have created a toxic workplace, not sold secrets to the Russians. The remedy is her departure. The government doesn’t have to finance her post-GG projects, or fund an office for her. And if anyone in the House of Commons wants to take a close look at the benefits allotted to future governors-general, senators – or MPs – fine.
But having Parliament consider a new law solely to remove Ms. Payette’s pension? That would be an improper targeting of an individual out of excessive political pandering.
It gets in the way of the real issue: Mr. Trudeau’s mistake was rushing to appoint a star, without proper vetting, or consultations. The whole point is that it is too late to really fix that now. That’s all the more reason to expect prime ministers to do a serious job of picking governors-general, or senators for that matter, in the first place.
Mr. Trudeau’s mistake with Ms. Payette is one that should make him squirm for a little while. Once you name a governor-general, it’s too late to call a mulligan. Mr. O’Toole’s proposal to find unprecedented ways to punish Ms. Payette only distracts from that.
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