A review of workplace conditions at Rideau Hall says staff described yelling, screaming and aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations leading up to the resignation of Julie Payette as governor-general.
A copy of the report, obtained by The Globe and Mail under access-to-information law, sheds more light on the tenure of the former astronaut who became the first Canadian governor-general to leave the position amid allegations of misconduct.
The government requested the review from Quintet Consulting Corp. in response to anonymous concerns raised in a CBC report about the Office of the Secretary of the Governor-General (OSGG) and inappropriate conduct of Ms. Payette and her secretary, Assunta Di Lorenzo. Ms. Payette and Ms. Di Lorenzo resigned last week.
From Oct. 19 to Nov. 23, the review team conducted a total of 92 interviews with participants, including current and former employees and people identified as knowledgeable individuals.
The report said 43 participants described the workplace environment at Rideau Hall during Ms. Payette’s tenure as hostile or negative or used similar terms. Twenty-six participants used the words “toxic” or “poisoned” to describe the general work atmosphere at the OSGG, eight participants used the words “climate/reign of fear/terror,” and 12 participants said they were “walking on egg shells.”
“Reports included allegations of yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations,” it said. “Therefore, by any objective standard, including that set by the Treasury Board Secretariat, the reported conduct summarized in the report, if it occurred as alleged, would lead to a toxic workplace.”
Other descriptions of the conditions at Rideau Hall included humiliation, disrespect, condescension, a non-inclusive workplace, a poisoned work environment and that employees were stressed and worn out.
Ms. Payette’s departure as governor-general, a key figure in Canadian parliamentary democracy who represents the country’s head of state, the Queen, has generated political controversy for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His government must appoint a replacement during a pandemic, an economic crisis and a minority government. The Prime Minister’s Office did not comment on the contents of the report on Wednesday evening.
On Friday, Mr. Trudeau said Ms. Payette was appointed after a “rigorous vetting process” and that the government will look at best possible way forward. However, three sources with knowledge of Ms. Payette’s vetting said she did not undergo a thorough background check before Mr. Trudeau asked her to serve as Canada’s 29th governor-general. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they are not authorized to speak about the vetting of Ms. Payette.
Quintet’s review cost $393,367.
The report also indicates that 20 participants said they saw harassment in the workplace or referred to harassing behaviour. However, Quintet noted it did not receive any formal complaints of harassment that were within the scope of its review.
It also said staff reported that since Ms. Payette was named governor-general in 2017, many employees left Rideau Hall permanently, temporarily or took sick leave, including some who had been there a long time.
Participants also described staff turnover as at record levels and said “people are leaving in droves,” including competent, accomplished and experienced staff.
It was stated some who adored the organization said they could not stay and 17 participants had left during Ms. Payette’s mandate because of the work environment at the OSGG. Participants also said 16 staff had left in half a year.
It also said that that 13 participants reported that they took sick leave because of the work environment.
Quintet also said there was considerable overlap and consistency among participants’ negative observations of the workplace, and concluded that a “serious problem” required immediate attention.
“In reaching this conclusion, Quintet respects the unproven nature of the reported concerns and draws on its decades of experience in the field of conflict management and prevention,” the report stated.
The report does not make findings of fact or determine whether reported conduct happened. Parts of the report have been blanked out due to privacy considerations.
In a statement last Thursday, Ms. Payette said no formal complaints or official grievances were filed against her and that she was not afforded due process.
“We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better, and be attentive to one another’s perceptions,” she said.
Ms. Payette said that for the good of the country and its democratic institutions, she concluded that a new governor-general should be appointed. Canadians deserve stability in these uncertain times, she said.
Ms. Di Lorenzo, who is being represented by the high-profile law firm Henein Hutchison LLP, has not commented publicly on the allegations.
With reports from Robert Fife
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