Julie Payette did not undergo a thorough background check before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed her to serve as Canada’s 29th governor-general in 2017, according to three sources with knowledge of the vetting process.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office did not reach out to former employers of Ms. Payette to determine her suitability for the viceregal role or talk to former colleagues who would have had knowledge of her history as a manager, the sources say.
Mr. Trudeau and PMO officials were struck by her celebrity status from the moment former prime minister Jean Chrétien suggested the onetime astronaut be named to take over from David Johnston as governor-general, the sources said.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they are not authorized to speak about the vetting of Ms. Payette, who resigned on Thursday after an independent review found that she and her deputy – long-time friend Assunta Di Lorenzo – bullied and verbally abused staff at Rideau Hall.
On Friday, in his first public comments on the unprecedented resignation, the Prime Minister insisted that Ms. Payette went through a proper background check.
“For all high-level appointments, there is a rigorous vetting process that was followed in this case,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters. “Obviously, we will continue to look at that vetting process to ensure that it is the best possible process as we move forward.”
However, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told The Globe in an interview that the vetting was inadequate and that they only learned of Ms. Payette’s alleged abusive behaviour toward underlings from media reports last summer.
“Clearly, the vetting was less than ideal,” Mr. LeBlanc said. “Clearly, the vetting in that circumstance missed some worrying things that came to light frankly because of journalists, because of reporters last summer. The first time we saw some of the workplace concerns were only last summer.”
Mr. LeBlanc said the independent report by Ottawa-based Quintet Consulting that investigated the toxic work environment at Rideau Hall will be released next week. The report, which cost $393,367, will be redacted to protect the names of staff who came forward in confidence to discuss the abuses they allegedly suffered.
Mr. Trudeau said he called the Queen on Friday to inform her that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Richard Wagner, would serve in the role during the interim.
The Prime Minister chose Ms. Payette in July, 2017 – after disbanding a nonpartisan, arm’s-length committee created by the previous Conservative government to recommend worthy nominees for viceregal posts. She was sworn in three months later.
Mr. Trudeau is facing political pressure to explain how Ms. Payette was named to the role of governor-general after she left as head of the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 in the wake of employees coming forward alleging verbal abuse. Similar complaints were made about her when she served on the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern, the vice-president of corporate communications for Canada Lands Company, which employed Ms. Payette while she was with the Science Centre, declined to discuss “personnel matters due to privacy considerations.”
However, the sources say there were no direct reference checks with Ms. Payette’s previous employers. It was assumed that she was a brilliant choice and the appointment was “ploughed forward without any real checks,” one of the sources said. A second source said people in the PMO “blurred their collective political judgment” because of her star quality as an astronaut and because she came highly recommended by Mr. Chrétien.
Mr. Trudeau, the source said, did not talk to cabinet colleague and former astronaut Marc Garneau, who knew that Ms. Payette had a reputation of being a difficult person.
The RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service did criminal and financial background checks, but they did not know that she had been charged in the United States in 2011 with assault against her then-husband, test pilot William Flynn. The charges were dropped.
Nor was the government aware that Ms. Payette had accidentally struck and killed a pedestrian in Maryland in 2011. The case was closed without charges in 2012.
The PMO became aware of those incidents when Canadian news organizations uncovered them in July, 2017, shortly after the appointment was announced. One of the sources said the PMO discussed the incident involving Mr. Flynn with her and was satisfied with her explanation. Everyone in the PMO felt sympathy for her, the source said.
Even when the government announced the independent review in September, 2020, into alleged abusive behaviour at Rideau Hall, Mr. Trudeau defended Ms. Payette and dismissed speculation that he would ask her to step down.
“We have an excellent governor-general right now,” he said at the time, after Ottawa hired Quintet Consulting to investigate the allegations of toxic working conditions at Rideau Hall.
Ms. Di Lorenzo also resigned Thursday. A source close to Ms. Payette said the two are no longer on speaking terms. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the pair’s personal relationship.
John Fraser, the founding president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada, said Friday that the government should bring back the former committee system for appointing the governor-general.
Under Stephen Harper, experts made recommendations to the prime minister for a shortlist of candidates. Mr. Fraser, who was part of the process, said that names were presented and Mr. Harper spent two hours reviewing them.
“It is a safety guard for the Prime Minister’s Office,” he said, adding that Mr. Trudeau is taking blame for the appointment of Ms. Payette.
Former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson said Friday that Ms. Payette’s resignation is a personal matter but also urged the government to look at an extensive vetting process.
The governor-general is a key figure in Canadian parliamentary democracy and represents the country’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.
“There are powers that the governor-general has to exercise at certain critical times in our democratic process,” Ms. Clarkson said. “The governor-general has purpose in Canada and that purpose really is to represent the people.”
When asked Friday whether he should apologize to the staff at Rideau Hall or to Canadians, Mr. Trudeau said that he believes in creating safe workplaces.
“We want to thank them for their work and reassure them that we will continue to stand up for workplaces that are safe and secure everywhere,” he said.
In a statement Thursday, Ms. Payette said that no formal complaints or official grievances were filed against her and that she was not afforded due process.
“We all experience things differently,” she said, adding that she resigned for the “good of the country” and to avoid a constitutional crisis.
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