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Governor General Julie Payette Resigns After Workplace Harassment Probe

The Privy Council office had hired a third party firm to investigate claims from current and former employees.
Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Sept. 23, 2020.
Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Sept. 23, 2020.

OTTAWA — Julie Payette has resigned as governor general following the completion of an investigation of workplace harassment allegations at Rideau Hall.

Payette issued a statement Thursday confirming earlier reports that she would step down as the Queen’s representative in Canada.

“I am a strong believer in the principles of natural justice, due process and the rule of law, and that these principles apply to all equally,” she wrote.

“Notwithstanding, in respect for the integrity of my vice-regal Office and for the good of our 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 development follows reports by The Globe and Mail and the CBC that an independent third-party probe of allegations, hired by the Privy Council Office last summer, had been completed. Sources told the newspaper the review painted a negative image of the governor general.

Allegations Payette fostered a “toxic” workplace culture at Rideau Hall were first reported by CBC News in July. Current and former employees claimed the former governor general bullied and humiliated staff, sometimes in front of other people, and had reduced staffers to tears with belittling remarks.

‘We all experience things differently’: Payette

Payette said no formal complaints or official grievances were filed against her. Repeating what she said about the allegations when the story first broke, she said she takes the allegations very seriously.

“Not only did I welcome a review of the work climate at the [Office of the Secretary to the Governor General], but I have repeatedly encouraged employees to participate in the review in large numbers,” she said. “We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better, and be attentive to one another’s perceptions.”

Her decision to resign from her role comes at an opportune time, she said, explaining her father’s health has “seriously worsened in the last few weeks and my family needs my help.”

Payette thanked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the “incredible opportunity” to serve as governor general and extended her gratitude to Canadians, calling her tenure in the role an “honour and a privilege.”

Governor General Julie Payette and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau look on during a swearing in ceremony following a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Aug. 18, 2020.
Governor General Julie Payette and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau look on during a swearing in ceremony following a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Aug. 18, 2020.

Trudeau confirmed he received Payette’s resignation Thursday. Every federal government employee has the right to work in a “safe and healthy environment, and we will always take this very seriously,” the prime minister said in a statement.

“Today’s announcement provides an opportunity for new leadership at Rideau Hall to address the workplace concerns raised by employees during the review.

Trudeau said Chief Justice Richard Wagner will fulfill the administrative duties of the governor general in the interim until a new appointment is announced “in due course.”

Installed in 2017

Prior to being appointed to the viceregal role by Trudeau and installed in 2017, Payette carved out a reputation as an astronaut and the first Canadian to board the International Space Station.

The prime minister did not use a panel on viceregal appointments, established by his predecessor, Stephen Harper, to select Payette. Questions about the vetting process behind Payette’s appointment were raised after it was revealed in 2017 she had a dismissed charge of second-degree assault from when she lived in Maryland in 2011. Payette called the assault charge “unfounded.”

Payette did not live in the official residences at Rideau Hall, and instead resided in Quebec. Over the summer, CBC News revealed details of pricey renovations at Rideau Hall, reportedly linked to Payette’s desire for privacy. She also faced criticism over her use of a government jet.

A sign along the wall surrounding Rideau Hall is seen on Jan. 21, 2021 in Ottawa. Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is resigning. The news comes as the results of an investigation into allegations of a toxic workplace environment at Rideau Hall are expected to be released.
A sign along the wall surrounding Rideau Hall is seen on Jan. 21, 2021 in Ottawa. Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is resigning. The news comes as the results of an investigation into allegations of a toxic workplace environment at Rideau Hall are expected to be released.

A governor general is appointed by the Queen on advice of the prime minister. There is no formal term limit for how long a governor general can serve in the viceregal role. The contemporary convention, however, is appointments are on a five-year term, pending the discretion of the prime minister for extension.

Roméo LeBlanc was the last governor general to resign from the position in 1999 citing health conditions.

Trudeau raised eyebrows in September by defending Payette after he was asked about the allegations about her behaviour. He suggested at the time he was not interested in her leaving the post.

We have an excellent Governor General right now and I think, on top of the COVID crisis, nobody is looking at any constitutional crises,” the prime minister told a Vancouver radio show.

Asked later why he would call Payette “excellent” despite accusations she created a “toxic” work environment, Trudeau pointed to her resumé.

“The Governor General has a long and successful role as a scientist, as an astronaut,” he told reporters. “We have engaged a third-party reviewer to follow up on these serious allegations, and we will wait for the reviewer to do their work.”

With a minority Parliament scheduled to resume sitting next week, Payette’s sudden resignation puts the government in a pinch to find an interim or permanent appointment. Payette’s resignation will likely not impact the passage of COVID-19 relief-related legislation.

Canada’s Parliament is modelled after the Westminster system of government. Legislation requires sign off from the sovereign, House of Commons and the Senate.

Traditionally, bills that clear the House and the Senate become law after being given royal assent by the governor general or one of their deputies. Rules stipulate that deputies can be a Supreme Court justice or a senior official such as the governor general’s secretary.

Assunta di Lorenzo, who served as the governor general’s secretary, also resigned Thursday. A longtime friend to Payette, di Lorenzo was also accused of harassing employees at Rideau Hall.

Though the role is seen as largely symbolic, governors general are empowered to deny a prime minister’s request for prorogation or a new election, a responsibility that is of heightened importance in a minority Parliament. The governor general is also commander-in-chief of Canada.

With files from Althia Raj

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