Gov. Gen. Julie Payette’s disdain for the Mounties paid to protect her has resulted in added security risks and unnecessary taxpayer costs, according to RCMP and Rideau Hall sources.
Payette’s secrecy and resistance to working with the RCMP routinely sends her protective detail scrambling to fulfil last-minute requests and drives up spending on overtime, hotel and plane tickets, multiple sources told CBC News.
Payette has even made repeated attempts to slip away from her protectors in Canada and abroad, sources say. The force has also had to apologize for her behaviour to foreign security abroad because she treated them so poorly, said sources.
The latest revelations come as the Governor General’s office is under an extraordinary workplace review by the Privy Council Office after CBC News reported claims Payette has belittled, berated and publicly humiliated employees. She’s also under fire for spending more than $250,000 on renovation projects for her desire for privacy, though after three years in office she still hasn’t moved into her official residence.
Sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, now list a litany of avoidable expenses that left taxpayers on the hook. They include:
- RCMP paying double or triple the price for flights abroad because Payette hadn’t decided if she was going on personal or work trips until the last minute. Some international flights have cost up to $12,000.
- Hotel rooms with a $400 price tag sitting empty near the Citadelle — her second official residence in Quebec City — because Payette suddenly decided she wanted to go to her cottage north of Montreal, but it was too late to cancel the original booking.
- The cost of an additional officer — ranging from an estimated $4,000 to $15,000 per week — on international trips to guard Payette’s door because of her repeated attempts to slip away from her protective detail.
“It’s infuriating,” said one RCMP source with direct knowledge of Payette’s protective detail. “She incurs costs that are unbelievable. It’s Canadians’ money that is not well spent because of someone who is difficult.”
Overtime and unforeseen staffing are a normal part of close protection for VIPs, but many sources said entirely avoidable costs are being piled up by Payette as a direct result of her behaviour rather than the usual demands of the vice-regal role.
Payette’s press secretary said cost-saving measures “are at the heart of all decisions made by our office.”
“The last two years have been particularly busy when it comes to representing Canada both at home and abroad, especially in regards to various commemorations linked to the First and Second World Wars,” said Ashlee Smith in a statement.
Police presence required
Payette, a former astronaut who became the Queen’s representative in Canada in 2017, is a deeply private person uncomfortable with such a public position, the National Post has reported. The Globe and Mail has written she’s frequently been at odds with the protective detail that comes with the role.
Payette was one of Justin Trudeau’s signature appointments during his first mandate as prime minister. Trudeau rejected Stephen Harper’s process of using an advisory board to suggest suitable candidates for the post and instead went with his personal choice.
The prime minister has done nothing to defend Payette recently. She could play a pivotal constitutional role should he ask her to dissolve the minority Parliament and allow an election.
The vice-regal role is symbolic of Canada, making her a potential target, according to former RCMP superintendent Garry Clement. The RCMP is mandated at all times, even during private functions, to protect the Governor General.
“The emphasis has to be mutual understanding of what the roles are and failure to accept the whole security apparatus can create a lot of tension and a lot of extra expenses,” said Clement.
$7.4M for protection
The RCMP confirmed there was more than a $1 million increase in spending to protect the Governor General in 2019-20 compared the previous fiscal year, when it cost $6.3 million.
The Mounties mainly attribute the spike to a change in its employee benefit plan. But the force would not provide a breakdown of overtime and travel expenses for CBC News to analyze. It also wouldn’t say if these specific costs were higher than past governors general — only saying overall spending has been “relatively stable over recent years.”
“Security costs for a governor general can vary depending on many different factors such as domestic and global threat, the level of activity of the Governor General and their family, the type and number of official events, and other items dictated by economic factors such as cost of travel, accommodations and fuel,” said RCMP spokesperson Stéphanie Dumoulin in a statement to CBC News.
The $7.4 million spent in 2019-20 is roughly $700,000 higher than her predecessor David Johnston’s last year in office — even though he travelled more and had a larger security detail, sources told CBC News, because there was a greater threat to Canadian public figures at the time — a period that included the October 2014 attack on Parliament Hill.
His protective detail costs were still lower — $6.7 million in 2015-16, according to RCMP. Those sources also argue taxpayer dollars could have been saved during Payette’s time in office if she was more co-operative with her detail.
“She doesn’t realize it’s not her life anymore and everything she does costs Canadians money,” said an RCMP source.
‘Complete lack of consideration’
CBC News spoke to seven sources who requested confidentiality because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about security matters or because they feared they could lose their jobs or harm their careers.
Several sources said Payette seems to resent the Mounties’ presence, believing they are being unnecessarily thrust upon her. When she was appointed, Payette bridled at the notion that an entire security detail needed to be with her constantly, according to sources with direct knowledge of her protective arrangements. Those sources said that led her to resist sharing her plans with those paid to protect her, leaving the RCMP in the dark about her whereabouts.
“In doing whatever the heck she pleases and changing her mind at the last minute, RCMP never really knew what to expect,” said a former employee at Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s official residence. “It really demonstrates a complete lack of consideration for the people that ensure her safety. It’s all about what she wants. It doesn’t matter how much it costs.”
At a staff barbecue at Rideau Hall early in her mandate, Payette took to the microphone to thank employees and share how much she appreciated their work, but singled out the RCMP and said they weren’t friends yet, according to the same former employee. Several Mounties were there and would have heard the comments, said the source.
“People’s jaws hit the table,” according to the former staff member.
On more than one occasion, Payette has tried to prevent an RCMP bodyguard from boarding a helicopter with her. In August 2018, Payette visited Nunavut to see the work Canadian researchers were doing onboard an icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean. She told the RCMP that there was no risk to her while surveying an ice island with scientists. She wanted the extra seat onboard for someone else.
The RCMP insisted on boarding the flight after a heated discussion about why the Mounties have a duty to remain by her side in public.
‘A challenge to disappear’
There’s also an element of mockery in Payette’s discussions with her RCMP protectors, said a former Rideau Hall employee.
“It was almost a cat-and-mouse kind of thing. She saw it as a challenge to disappear from the RCMP.”
That’s led the force to monitor Payette using GPS technology when she demands space, said an RCMP source.
The Mounties have also gone as far as bringing an additional member on international trips to keep tabs on Payette overnight. Unlike other governors general, who would wake up and call the protective detail to let them know they are up, Payette has left her room alone to work out at dawn. The additional measure cost an estimated $4,000 to $15,000 for a one-week trip abroad, one RCMP source estimated.
Former RCMP deputy commissioner Pierre-Yves Bourduas says if Payette is playing a game of “cat and mouse,” it’s a troubling situation and creates internal operational issues for the RCMP, who are already concerned about an external threat.
During Bourduas’s time as deputy commissioner, 2005-2008, more than 6,800 members reported to him, including those who worked for the Governor General’s protective detail.
“The RCMP and the governor general have to work and sing from the same song sheet,” he said. “Let’s say she tries to evade and distance herself from protective details, let’s say she’s driving or biking, you don’t want to create any situation that could endanger the public, because the RCMP would try to catch up.”
Payette’s press secretary said Rideau Hall does not comment on security issues.
“The Governor General is very grateful for the service her protective detail provides to her, day in and day out, and has tremendous respect and admiration for them and for the men and women of the police force, whether they serve in uniform or in civilian attire, and who work tirelessly for the safety and protection of us all,” said Smith.
Payette has been described as a poor planner who doesn’t want to “feel trapped,” according to a former employee at Rideau Hall. She doesn’t like the idea of being locked into a plan in case something more interesting comes up.
There have been cases where the RCMP was given just a few hours’ notice that they needed to take Payette to her cottage north of Montreal for the weekend. The Mounties didn’t have any advance warning and had to call in staff who were off and pay them overtime, said an RCMP source.
Similarly, Payette has been known to extend her trips longer than expected and officers had to work extended hours at a premium cost, the source said.
During a trip to the Citadelle, Payette has also decided at the last minute she wanted to travel to her cottage. During the summer months, hotels in Quebec City can cost up to $400 a night due to the demand. Without 24-48 hours’ notice, the Mounties couldn’t cancel rooms and ended up paying twice because they had to book elsewhere near her cottage.
Payette’s press secretary defended the Governor General, saying she has family, friends and plans of her own and claims changes to plans are kept to a minimum.
“The Governor General takes great care to ensure that the RCMP have advance notice of her plans, days, weeks and sometimes months in advance, and that changes are kept to the strict minimum,” said Smith.
“But plans can and do change — this is entirely normal for each and every Canadian, including for those who hold public offices — this should not be portrayed as being an offense, particularly since in the case of the Governor General, there are no additional financial impact on expenses, in that Her Excellency’s expenses for this mandate are entirely in line with other mandates.”
Prefers flying commercial
The RCMP’s website says, when it comes to Canadian dignitaries, for “security and safety reasons, the RCMP requests that all their air movements be on government aircraft.”
However, Payette’s preference is to travel business-class commercially on long-haul flights, rather than taking a military aircraft, which can also tack on additional costs for staff, said multiple sources.
The Governor General has made the argument that if she flies commercial she can get some rest on the plane and be ready to attend events when the wheels hit the ground, said sources. Whereas if she took a military plane it is too uncomfortable to rest.
Payette’s press secretary says that in some cases commercial travel is cheaper too.
“There have been occasions identified where flying commercial would be more cost effective than to use military aircrafts,” said Smith.
But according to sources, there have been cases where plane tickets ended up costing RCMP and other staff triple the price because they received approval to go on the trip with less than a week’s notice.
“That irked me as a taxpayer,” said a former Rideau Hall employee. “We could have gotten something at a good price but didn’t because of dithering.”
“It’s crazy expensive,” said a different former Rideau Hall worker. “A ticket can be up to $12,000 to fly someone last-minute business class.”
Flying commercially also puts Payette at a higher risk. It adds an entirely new security dimension to travel, said RCMP sources. She’s at a public airport and on a plane packed with people. If there is a delay or potential layover, that presents a host of new challenges.
“These last-minute things [cause] RCMP to operate in a state of flux, they have to react rather than plan which also creates heightened levels of I would think security issues,” said Clement. “When you have an individual that does this, it makes it extremely difficult.”
Treatment of international security
Payette’s treatment of local security details abroad has forced the RCMP to personally apologize because they were so embarrassed by her behaviour, said a security source.
She’s uncomfortable with being treated as Canada’s head of state while visiting countries abroad, said multiple sources.
A source with direct knowledge of Payette’s security detail said she yelled at local police for getting too close to her. Payette has also criticized host countries’ police over their driving, which spilled her coffee while she was working. She has even gone as far as asking to replace a member of a foreign security detail guarding her because she felt they were too tall and visible. Payette prefers security to be out of her line of sight, said sources.
A former employee at Rideau Hall said Payette fails to understand that diplomacy is a big part of her job while overseas and happens at all levels, including the treatment of foreign security.
Ashley Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org