A number of non-profit groups such as St. John Ambulance and Scouts Canada are still waiting for the results of a review of the Governor-General’s activities to see whether Julie Payette will uphold tradition and start to work with their organizations, nearly one year after she was installed in the vice-regal position.
The situation is raising questions and a certain level of frustration among Canadian philanthropic organizations that have long relied on the patronage of governors-general to conduct their activities and recognize the contributions of their volunteers and workers.
As Governor-General, the former astronaut and public speaker holds official functions that are key to Canada’s parliamentary democracy, but governors-general have also traditionally worked with groups involved in a wide variety of non-profit sectors.
Since her installation on Oct. 2, 2017, Rideau Hall has been conducting a review of Ms. Payette’s activities to find the best way for her to “serve and evolve along with the Canadian population of today.”
“Our priority has been to develop an approach that is inclusive and dynamic, and new initiatives are under development,” said Marie-Ève Létourneau, a spokeswoman for Rideau Hall. “We will gladly share the results of these efforts as soon as we have finished consulting all of our partners.”
Robert Finch, Dominion chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, said he initially gave the benefit of the doubt to Ms. Payette, but feels the review is taking too long. He added it should be a “no-brainer” for her to act as honorary head of groups such as Scouts Canada, St. John Ambulance and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
“There is growing concern about leaving these organizations in limbo, of not carrying out as many engagements as her predecessor,” Mr. Finch said in an interview. “I can certainly see the points of view of those who are upset because they want answers and they deserve answers and, one step further, they deserve the answer ‘yes’ in asking her to continue as patron.”
The situation has left some groups wondering whether they will have to change their organizational structure as a result of the ongoing review of the Governor-General’s patronage activities.
Since its founding in 1929, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society has operated with successive governors-general serving as the organization’s patron. For now, that position is vacant and the society’s bylaws will have to be changed if Ms. Payette does not agree to take on the role.
“The Society has been very excited about the appointment of Julie Payette, a distinguished former astronaut and engineer, whose advocacy for geographic and scientific literacy is consistent with our own mandate. An invitation was issued at the time of Her Excellency’s installation but it is our understanding that a review of patronages is underway at Rideau Hall,” society spokeswoman Deborah Chapman said.
Governors-general served as Scouts Canada’s chief scout from 1910 to 2009, and since then have served as patron scout. However, the group is still waiting to see whether Ms. Payette will agree to serve in the “honorary leadership role.”
“The Governor-General’s role is currently ‘pending’ as we await confirmation,” said Scouts Canada spokesman John Petitti.
St. John Ambulance has recently written to Rideau Hall to ask Ms. Payette to serve as its prior in the hopes of continuing a tradition that goes back to 1946. The Order of St. John, which goes to Canadians involved in philanthropic activities, is part of the official Canadian honour system.
“We are currently awaiting a reply from the Chancellery and anticipate a positive response from Her Excellency and look forward to working with Her Excellency as we continue to improve the health, safety and quality of life of all Canadians,” said Jerry Rankin, CEO of St. John Ambulance.
Governors-general have also long been involved with the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, namely by awarding every two years the Governor-General’s Medals in Architecture. However, the group held the event in Winnipeg this year, with the medals awarded by Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor Janice Filmon.
“We submitted a request that they be held at Rideau Hall this year as we normally do, and we were informed that it would not be possible for Her Excellency to accommodate us this year. No reason was given,” the institute’s president, Michael Cox, said.
Before this year, the Governor-General’s Medals in Architecture had been awarded at Rideau Hall every two years since 2002, except for one occasion in 2006, when the ceremony was held in Montreal by Quebec’s then-lieutenant-governor, Lise Thibault.
Ms. Payette, who collects an annual salary of nearly $300,000, has travelled much of the country since her installation, but has been criticized for not planning to go to Manitoba in the first year of her mandate, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. Still, as part of an ongoing trip to Newfoundland, Ms. Payette was invested as the Honorary Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard on Thursday.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Ms. Payette’s achievements in her previous career are “a testament to her hard work, discipline and passion.”
“The Governor-General identifies her own priorities. While the Governor-General is non-partisan and apolitical, the Prime Minister has an excellent working relationship with Ms. Payette and is proud of the work she has been doing to represent Canada here and abroad since she took office,” PMO spokeswoman Chantal Gagnon said.
Mr. Finch of the Monarchist League said he understands that Ms. Payette is following in the footsteps of a predecessor, David Johnston, who kept a hectic pace in the position.
“She is a different person in that regard, but I only hope and assume she knew what comes with the position,” he said.