The Privy Council Office will be giving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau advice this week on selecting a new governor general after Julie Payette resigned amid a scathing report into harassment and a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall.
Roughly 100 public servants volunteered to be interviewed during a third-party review into the workplace culture at Rideau Hall. Quintet Consulting’s final report found overwhelmingly that Payette and her second-in-command, Assunta Di Lorenzo, were responsible for a toxic and poisonous workplace environment at Rideau Hall, according to a government source with direct knowledge.
The president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Dominic LeBlanc, said the federal government plans to appoint a new governor general in weeks rather than months. Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Richard Wagner is currently fulfilling Payette’s duties on an interim basis.
“It’s not a circumstance we want to drag on for weeks and weeks and weeks,” LeBlanc said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday.
The prime minister said on Friday he intends to make the vetting process more robust, but LeBlanc said Trudeau hasn’t made any decisions yet and described a sense of urgency.
“There was obviously a vetting process that took place, but I don’t think we can pretend that it was adequate. It’s being reinforced obviously and made more robust,” LeBlanc said.
“There is some urgency to have a process in place and make decisions on next steps, and I would think that will be happening in the coming days,” said LeBlanc, who is intergovernmental affairs minister.
WATCH | Vetting will be more robust for new governor general:
PCO triggered review after CBC story
The Privy Council Office triggered the third-party workplace review after a CBC News story in July featuring a dozen former employees and current public servants confidentially claimed that Payette had belittled, berated and publicly humiliated Rideau Hall staff.They also accused Di Lorenzo of bullying staff.
Payette received a copy of the report on Monday. The next day, the clerk of the Privy Council and LeBlanc sat down with her for a difficult conversation, said a source. Payette offered her resignation to the prime minister on Wednesday, and by Thursday she made the announcement publicly.
“While no formal complaints or official grievances were made during my tenure, which would have immediately triggered a detailed investigation as prescribed by law and the collective agreements in place, I still take these allegations very seriously,” Payette wrote on Jan. 21.
“Not only did I welcome a review of the work climate at the OSGG, but I have repeatedly encouraged employees to participate in the review in large numbers. We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better and be attentive to one another’s perceptions.”
LeBlanc shared that he had personal experience with Rideau Hall staff, dating back to when his father, Roméo LeBlanc, served as governor general from 1995 to 1999.
“They are extraordinary Canadians. They’re wonderful people,” he said, recalling that years later, staff members would ask to visit his father — who was living with dementia in New Brunswick — when they travelled to the province on holiday.
“Some of those people are still there. When I would go to a swearing-in ceremony, I would see some of those wonderful people that are still working there from 25 years ago,” he said. “I know the clerk and the senior public servants at Privy Council will be very present and very active and very reassuring to the public servants that work at Rideau Hall.”
LeBlanc expects other parties will be considered
Trudeau is now facing renewed criticism over his approach to choosing Payette for the job — selecting his personal pick for the role rather than using former prime minister Stephen Harper’s advisory committee process to suggest suitable candidates. Opposition parties have suggested Trudeau got swept up in the celebrity status of Payette, a former astronaut.
CBC News reported in September that Trudeau’s office failed to check with at least two key past employers before appointing Payette, which could have exposed red flags about her treatment of staff and ability to lead.
Payette was given severance of roughly $200,000 when she resigned from the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 following complaints about her treatment of employees, say multiple sources. In 2017, she left the Canadian Olympic Committee after two internal investigations into her treatment of staff, including verbal harassment, sources said.
LeBlanc said the government learned about these past workplace problems in September from CBC’s reporting.
Opposition parties have been pushing to take part in selecting the new governor general this time around since it’s a minority government. LeBlanc said he expects the parties will be taken into consideration in the appointment process.
“We’re open to considering a process that obviously is inclusive but produces the best possible recommendation for the Queen,” he said.
The minister also said he “would assume” the prime minister will consider using the non-partisan committee set up by the Harper government again. If the measure of success for the committee was David Johnston, he said, then yes, he was “clearly a very good appointment.”
It’s also the government’s desire to consider selecting an Indigenous or diverse candidate, LeBlanc said, saying that’s been a priority for all appointments and senior positions since forming government in 2015.
Payette was professional astronaut, Garneau says
In a separate interview, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau told CBC’s Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton that the Prime Minister’s Office did ask him about Payette when her nomination was being considered.
He told them what he knew about her during their time together as astronauts and said she was professional.
“In fact, she flew twice representing Canada in space and did a very good job,” Garneau said.
“That was the extent of my input to it. That was the extent of my knowledge of Ms. Payette,” he added. “Having said that, what has happened is very sad and it points out to the very, very important requirement for us to have respect and dignity in the workplace. If I can find a silver lining here, it’s important to reaffirm the importance of dignity in the workplace.”
Complaints date back to years at Canadian Space Agency
CBC News has reported on complaints about Payette’s workplace behaviour dating all the way back to her years at the Canadian Space Agency in the 1990s and early 2000s. Some who worked with her there say they have no wish to interact with her again until she apologizes for the negative and demeaning way she treated them.
One former Canadian Space Agency employee said there was “Julie Payette’s way” or no way. Sources reported she would lash out at staff by calling them during off-hours to denigrate their work. Other CSA workers described a more professional, collegial workplace relationship with Payette.
WATCH Vetting failed in appointment of former Gov. Gen. Julie Payette:
The clerk of the Privy Council and his office said they will be working with the associate secretary at Rideau Hall in the coming weeks to start talking to employees about how to “chart a new course towards a better environment at Rideau Hall.”
A high number of employees went on leave or left the office altogether, as some said they experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, while others said their self-worth was so damaged they became unrecognizable to their families and it took months to recover, according to the sources.
“We acknowledge the impact that the state of workplace health has had on all employees at the [Office of the Secretary to the Governor General]. This has been a very difficult time and we are committed to restoring the workplace to focus on the challenges that lie ahead,” Privy Council Office spokesperson Pierre-Alain Bujold said in a statement to CBC News.