A private consulting company is inviting current Rideau Hall employees to confidentially share their experiences on the job as part of its independent review of claims that Gov. General Julie Payette created a toxic workplace and verbally harassed employees.
The Privy Council Office launched an unprecedented third-party review in July following a CBC News report featuring a dozen public servants and former employees confidentially claiming Payette had belittled, berated and publicly humiliated Rideau Hall staff.
Staff members have taken leaves of absence, or have left Rideau Hall altogether, because of the bullying, said sources. Payette’s long-time friend and second-in-command Assunta Di Lorenzo is also accused of mistreating staff.
Quintet Consulting, a private Ottawa company focused on workplace conflict management, sent some Rideau Hall employees an email last week asking them to respond by Oct. 5 if they opt to take part in the voluntary process.
“If you choose to participate in this Review, you will be invited to an interview,” says Quintet president Raphael Szajnfarber in the email obtained by CBC News. “During this interview, you will be provided an opportunity to speak openly and members of the Quintet team will be there to listen attentively to your concerns and observations about the work environment within the [Office of the Secretary to the Governor General].”
Former employees contacting company
The company also said it will be speaking to former employees or workers in other government department with knowledge of the workplace environment at Rideau Hall — including those who work on the grounds of Rideau Hall and may have “witnessed key events.”
Multiple former employees CBC News spoke to said they haven’t been contacted by Quintet yet. Behind the scenes, a network of current and former employees at Rideau Hall is mobilizing to provide Quintet with a list of names to contact.
Some former employees have gotten in touch with the company already. The Privy Council Office said the company has set up an email address — [email protected] — for knowledgeable witnesses to contact.
Jennifer White, a workplace investigator in Ottawa who is not involved in Quintet’s work, said such workplace reviews usually take a phased approach and it makes sense for Quintet to start with current employees who are still part of a potential “live situation.”
“They might want to look at those in the workplace who are in a precarious situation or need some reporting structures looked at,” she said.
White said workplace investigators normally would not trust or rely on a list of contacts prepared by an agency they’re investigating. Instead, she said, she usually asks complainants to provide the names of others she should speak with — a process that creates a network of relevant contacts.
The Privy Council Office’s Terms of Reference for the review state the third party contractor “shall conduct the review with the utmost discretion.”
Quintet assured employees in the email that the process is confidential, and that personal names and other identifying information will not be included in the final report submitted to the government. Participants can consent to have their names included if they wish.
“The contents of the Review Report will not be released publicly, unless required to do so by law,” said Szajnfarber in Quintet’s email to current staff.
Quintet declined to comment publicly, saying only that it is “working diligently on this confidential review.”
Payette’s press secretary Ashlee Smith said that, “out of respect for the privacy and confidentiality of former and current staff, and in order to maintain the impartiality and independence of the ongoing process, we will not be commenting.”
Governor General welcomed review
On July 23, Payette said she was in full agreement with the decision to launch a workplace probe and takes harassment very seriously. Her office maintains that no “formal” complaint has ever been filed against her in her current or past roles.
CBC News reported last week that Payette left her two previous workplaces as complaints were made against her about her treatment of staff. She resigned from running the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 with one year of severance pay worth around an estimated $200,000, according to former employees and board members at Canada Lands Company, the self-financing Crown corporation that employed her.
The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) also investigated two complaints against Payette, including one of verbal harassment in 2016, multiple current and former employees said. Payette did not seek a longer term as a board member after the committee spoke to her about the alleged behaviour, the sources claim. Sources said the Liberal government did not ask for references from either the COC or the Montreal Science Centre before appointing Payette as Governor General.
The Privy Council Office has said it expects Quintet to complete the review later this fall. The company is expected to produce a report that determines if a toxic work environment or harassment existed at Rideau Hall and provide recommendations on next steps.