The Privy Council Office (PCO) has hired a private firm to investigate workplace harassment allegations in the office of Gov. Gen. Julie Payette that came to light in media reports this summer.
The PCO, a bureaucratic operation that supports the prime minister and cabinet, announced the move Tuesday, weeks after it promised a “thorough, independent, and impartial review” into concerns raised by past and current employees about their time at Rideau Hall under Payette’s leadership.
Ottawa-based Quintet Consulting Corp. “has been mandated to act independently and draft a report,” according to a PCO statement. The firm was previously tapped by the federal government to investigate other workplace issues, including the alleged harassment and abuse in the office of former senator Don Meredith.
Watch: A timeline of Gov. Gen. Julie Payette’s controversies
Dominic LeBlanc, the president of the Queen’s Privy Council and minister of intergovernmental affairs, will oversee the probe and is expected to receive a final report this fall. LeBlanc’s father, Roméo, served as governor general from 1995 to 1999.
The terms of reference for the investigation state Quintet will confidentially contact current workers and those who have left since Payette came to the role in 2017 “in order to invite them, on a voluntary basis, to participate in meetings and interviews.” The firm will also speak with Payette and her secretary, Assunta Di Lorenzo, to explain the review. The office’s management will “have an opportunity to provide any relevant background and context.”
The final report will include an executive summary that will state if allegations of harassment and “behaviours leading to a toxic work environment” have been made, the nature of those incidents, and a ruling on whether they meet the definition of harassment and inappropriate conduct. The full report won’t be released publicly.
Though the probe was launched by the PCO, Payette tweeted in July that she requested an independent review and takes workplace issues seriously. “I am committed to ensuring that every employee who works at Rideau Hall enjoys a secure and healthy work environment at all times and under all circumstances,” she said at the time.
The developments come on the heels of reports from CBC News’ Ashley Burke, who was told by dozens of sources that Payette created an atmosphere of bullying at Rideau Hall and publicly humiliated and belittled employees, prompting some to quit.
“She screams and humiliates staff in front of others,” a former employee told CBC News. “It’s verbal abuse. In no world is it OK to treat people that way.”
Di Lorenzo, the Governor General’s secretary, is also alleged to have harassed and bullied staffers. The Governor General’s spokesperson denied the claims, saying at the time that CBC’s reporting was “in stark contrast to the reality” of working in the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General.
Payette has also found herself in hot water in recent weeks over revelations about expensive renovations at Rideau Hall, reportedly linked to her desire for privacy, as well as her use of a government jet.
Liberals have been reluctant to weigh in on the Payette controversies, but Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was asked at a press conference last month if the federal government still has confidence in the Governor General.
“You know very well the important constitutional role the Governor General plays in Canada. And I believe that… having that function, having that role has served our country very, very well over time,” she said. “And I think Canadians have a great respect for the office of the Governor General and I have that respect as well.”
“But for this Governor General?” a reporter pressed.
“As I said, I think Canadians understand and appreciate the way our system of government, our constitutional system works. The office of the Governor General plays a very important role in that system. And, I think like the overwhelming majority of Canadians, I have a great deal of respect for that office and for that role.”
Watch the exchange at the 28:40 mark of the CPAC video below:
Payette was front and centre less than two weeks later when Freeland was sworn in at Rideau Hall as the new finance minister, and LeBlanc took on the intergovernmental affairs file. On that day, Payette also agreed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s request to prorogue Parliament until a throne speech can be delivered on Sept. 23.
Payette, a former astronaut, was appointed to the viceregal role in 2017. Her term isn’t slated to end until 2022.
With a file from The Canadian Press