Skip to main content

Former Governor General Julie Payette nods giving royal assent of a government bill during a ceremony in the Senate chamber in Ottawa, Dec. 12, 2019.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came under fire Monday about the extent of expenses that will be afforded to former governor-general Julie Payette who resigned last Thursday, along with her second-in-command, after a damning external report on allegations of harassment and bullying inside Rideau Hall.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Monday that Ms. Payette resigned from her role and should therefore not be able to access the normal courtesies provided to governors-general.

“It is not appropriate in a case where there’s a break in the assignment of the governor-general,” Mr. O’Toole said.

Ms. Payette’s exit from the viceregal role last week, which has prompted a search for a governor-general in the middle of a pandemic and a minority Parliament, has become a political controversy for Mr. Trudeau’s government, which named the former astronaut to serve as Canada’s 29th governor-general in 2017.

Opposition parties said Monday he must be held accountable, including for failing to ensure a thorough background check was conducted on Ms. Payette before she was named to the job. Three sources with knowledge of the vetting process told The Globe and Mail on Friday that Ms. Payette did not undergo a thorough background check before her appointment.

A source with knowledge of Ms. Payette’s selection process also told The Globe and Mail on Monday that the process that was used to name her was not the “application-based processes” put in place for the Senate, Governor in Council appointments or the Supreme Court. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to publicly speak about the vetting process for Ms. Payette.

The source said discussion about a successor to former governor-general David Johnston came up in early 2017 and the replacement was always going to be a female francophone with the possibility of an Indigenous candidate if they were functionally bilingual.

The source also said that Ms. Payette’s name came up in the search for female francophones and there was a very rapid coming together around that name after former prime minister Jean Chrétien made an enthusiastic pitch for Ms. Payette to senior members of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Mr. O’Toole said Monday that the situation with Ms. Payette is nothing short of a failure on the part of the Prime Minister. He called on Mr. Trudeau to also consult with other parties on the next governor-general. Supreme Court Justice Richard Wagner will serve as the administrator in the interim.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is also asking the Prime Minister to explain whether an agreement was reached with Ms. Payette that gave way to her departure. Canadians are concerned that Ms. Payette’s behaviour is being rewarded, he said.

When asked Monday whether such an agreement was reached, the PMO directed questions to the Privy Council Office. Pierre-Alain Bujold, a spokesperson the PCO, said that upon leaving office former governors-general receive an annuity in accordance with the Governor General’s Act. They are eligible for the reimbursement of expenses incurred as a result of having held the office, he said, such as when attending events at the invitation of the government.

Mr. Singh also said Mr. Trudeau must apologize to staff at Rideau Hall given that her poor treatment of workers could have been expected with a proper check into Ms. Payette’s past treatment of employees.

For example, Ms. Payette left the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 in the wake of employees coming forward alleging verbal abuse. A spokesperson for Canada Lands Company, which employed Ms. Payette while she was with the Science Centre, has declined to discuss staffing matters because of privacy considerations.

Mr. Trudeau has insisted, meantime, a “rigorous vetting process that was followed in this case” and it will look at best possible processes as it moves forward.

He also said the country has very clear rules, regulations and procedures in place including on annuities for governors-general. Former governors-general are entitled to $149,484 a year as well as the expense program.

“Those processes will be followed,” Mr. Trudeau said Friday. “Obviously we’re always open to having discussions on changes that need to be made moving forward.”

Rob McKinnon, a spokesperson in the Office of the Secretary to the Governor-General, said that a Treasury Board decision from 1979 allows the federal government to provide administrative support to former governors-general for activities related to their former role and that it continues to be the case.

“Once governors-general end their mandate, there remains an expectation that they continue to serve as Canadian leading figures,” he said.

“This expectation of continued public life means that they are regularly solicited ‎to support various causes, take part in important events and undertake official activities. Administrative support is necessary to co-ordinate the public engagements and continued work expected by Canadians.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau, who is a former astronaut himself, told CBC on Sunday that the situation with Ms. Payette affirms the need for respect and dignity in the workplace. Mr. Garneau said that the PMO asked him about Ms. Payette when the nomination was being considered and he told them his knowledge of her in her previous career as an astronaut, in which she was “very professional.”

For her part, Ms. Payette has said that she was not afforded due process but that she resigned for the “good of the country” and to avoid a constitutional crisis.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.