Governor-General Julie Payette has resigned in the aftermath of a scathing independent review of workplace harassment allegations at Rideau Hall, a stunning fall from grace for the former astronaut that leaves the institution in disarray amid a pandemic, a stalled economy and a country facing a possible federal election this year.
Ms. Payette said in a statement that no formal complaints or official grievances were filed against her and that she was not afforded due process. Current and former staff had detailed in media reports and in the review that she and her top aide had verbally abused and bullied them.
“We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better, and be attentive to one another’s perceptions,” she said.
However, Ms. Payette said she resigned to end a political firestorm and apologized for any wrong that may have been felt by Rideau Hall staff.
“Tensions have arisen at Rideau Hall over the past few months and for that, I am sorry,” she said. “For the good of the country and of our democratic institutions, I have come to the conclusion that a new Governor-General should be appointed. Canadians deserve stability in these uncertain times.”
The governor-general, a key figure in Canadian parliamentary democracy, is the representative of the country’s head of state, presently Queen Elizabeth II. The viceregal exercises constitutional duties, represents Canada at home and abroad and provides symbolic leadership to members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Ms. Payette has had a rocky tenure almost from the moment Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped her for the post in 2017.
A source close to Ms. Payette said the Prime Minister met with her on Wednesday night at Rideau Hall and asked her to resign. The source is not being identified by The Globe and Mail because they were not authorized to discuss what was a private conversation.
The conversation took place after Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc and Clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart presented the findings of the independent review to Ms. Payette on Tuesday, the source said. The pair outlined her options, including resigning. If Ms. Payette had refused to step aside, the Prime Minister could have gone to the Queen to ask the viceregal to resign. In response to the resignation, Buckingham Palace said: “The Queen has been kept informed of developments.”
Four people briefed on the review said it painted a very negative picture of the work environment inside the Governor-General’s office and made it impossible for Ms. Payette to keep the post. The review will not be made public. The Globe is keeping their names confidential because they were not authorized to discuss what was in the review.
Ms. Payette’s long-time friend and second-in-command, Assunta Di Lorenzo, also resigned. Ms. Di Lorenzo hired the Toronto law firm of high-profile lawyer Marie Henein to represent her in discussions with federal lawyers, two of those four sources said.
“Every employee in the Government of Canada has the right to work in a safe and healthy environment, and we will always take this very seriously,” Mr. Trudeau said Thursday. “[The] announcement provides an opportunity for new leadership at Rideau Hall to address the workplace concerns raised by employees during the review.”
The Governor-General’s salary is $270,602 annually. Ms. Di Lorenzo was appointed to her role in 2018 with a salary of between $192,600 and $226,500, according to an Order in Council.
The federal government hired Ottawa-based Quintet Consulting in September to independently investigate and draft a report on the nature of concerns within the Office of the Secretary to the Governor-General. The two sources said the firm interviewed between 80 and 150 people.
The review was first commissioned in July after CBC News reported allegations that Ms. Payette had created a toxic environment at Rideau Hall by verbally harassing employees to the point where some had been reduced to tears or left the office altogether.
CBC and Postmedia have also reported that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on designs and renovations at Rideau Hall, some allegedly to ensure Ms. Payette’s personal privacy and accessibility. In 2018, The Globe reported that Ms. Payette was frequently at odds with the RCMP over security issues, such as going for a jog by herself without informing her security detail.
The union representing RCMP officers who were part of Ms. Payette’s security detail expressed relief that Ms. Payette resigned.
“We hope that our members will be able to experience a much more positive and rewarding work environment that, frankly, should be the norm,” the National Police Federation said in a statement.
A federal election, where the governor-general would have a constitutional role in calling a vote, could come as early as shortly after the next budget, which is expected in March or April. Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, will fill in as acting viceregal until a replacement is named.
Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and one-time Conservative cabinet minister James Moore urged the Prime Minister to reappoint former Governor-General David Johnston for a year-long term.
Philippe Lagassé, an associate professor at Carleton University and an expert on the Westminster parliamentary system, said Ms. Payette’s resignation is a first of its kind for the office.
“We haven’t actually seen this before in Canada, this type of resignation,” he said. “That’s significant.”
The Prime Minister is facing questions about what kind of vetting was done of Ms. Payette. He had disbanded a panel of experts who made recommendations for the governor-general and lieutenant governors in the provinces.
Ms. Payette resigned as head of the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 after complaints about her treatment of employees.
When she became Governor-General, she waited more than a year to move into Rideau Hall, preferring the privacy of a separate nearby mansion reserved for visiting leaders and dignitaries. A number of non-profit groups such as St. John Ambulance and Scouts Canada were also upset that it took more than a year for her to uphold the tradition of serving as honorary head of their organizations.
Robert Finch, dominion chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, said he was surprised but not shocked by Ms. Payette’s departure.
The office is bruised but time will heal wounds, he said, adding that Ms. Payette’s departure, along with the exit of her secretary, marks a new chapter at Rideau Hall.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said the Prime Minister should consult opposition parties and re-establish an appointments committee for the viceregal considering the problems with Mr. Trudeau’s last appointment and with a minority Parliament.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said more action is required than Ms. Payette’s resignation.
“The people we need to keep in mind here are the workers that had to endure an unsafe work environment,” he said. “The Prime Minister must take the necessary measures that ensure the health and safety of workers and a harassment-free work environment.”
The Bloc Québécois’s Rhéal Fortin said the vacant post of governor-general is a great opportunity to question the usefulness of an outdated function that has no place in a democracy.
Born in Montreal, Ms. Payette, 57, worked as an astronaut from 1992 to 2013 and flew two missions in space.
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