Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today called Julie Payette an “excellent” Governor General and said he has no intention right now of asking the Queen to replace her in the wake of CBC reports alleging harassment and a toxic workplace environment at Rideau Hall.
Trudeau told an interviewer this morning that the Privy Council Office already has launched an external review of working conditions at Rideau Hall. The government confirmed the contract with Quintet Consulting is valued at more than $88,000 and the review’s results are expected later this fall.
“We have an excellent Governor General right now and I think, on top of the COVID crisis, nobody’s looking at any constitutional crises,” Trudeau told RED FM in Vancouver this morning.
“We have put in place a process to review some of the working conditions at Rideau Hall, but that’s not something that we’re contemplating right now, going further than that.”
Trudeau’s comments amount to his first public defence of Payette since CBC’s story broke at the end of July, featuring a dozen sources claiming Payette belittled, berated and publicly humiliated employees at Rideau Hall. Her second-in-command and long-time friend, Assunta Di Lorenzo, is also accused of bullying staff.
More than 20 people — including public servants and former employees at Rideau Hall — have now told CBC News they either witnessed or experienced that behaviour first-hand.
Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole said today it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment on Payette.
“I think there’s a nice separation,” said O’Toole. “She did give me a very nice phone call to congratulate me on my parliamentary role. That’s all I’ll say about that issue.”
Trudeau silent on Payette in the past
Trudeau selected Payette — a former astronaut, computer engineer, pilot, academic, musician and executive — to take on the viceregal role as the Queen’s representative in Canada in October 2017. It was one of his signature appointments during his first mandate as prime minister. Rather than using former prime minister Stephen Harper’s appointment process — using an advisory board to suggest suitable candidates for the post — Trudeau instead went with his personal choice.
Before today’s comments, the prime minister had been notably silent on the reports about Payette’s behaviour, saying only that he takes harassment complaints very seriously.
“Every Canadian has the right to a safe, secure workspace, free from harassment, and that is extremely important,” Trudeau said on July 22.
Freeland drew a line between office and occupant
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland drew a sharp distinction between her support for the office of the Governor General and its current occupant, Julie Payette, in the wake of reporting by CBC News showing unusual spending to meet Payette’s demands for privacy.
When asked if she had confidence in Payette last month, Freeland voiced support for her office and the constitutional role it plays, but pointedly did not express explicit confidence in Payette.
“I think Canadians have a great respect for the office of the Governor General and I have that respect as well,” Freeland said on August 7.
CBC News also has reported that Payette’s disregard 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 says she takes harassment issues very seriously
Trudeau asked Payette last month to hit the reset button on his Liberal government — now mired in an ethics controversy — by proroguing Parliament until September.
Payette is expected to deliver the Liberal government’s speech from the throne on Sept. 23 to open a new session of Parliament.
The Governor General issued a statement on July 23 saying she’s deeply concerned by media reports about Rideau Hall.
“… I am completely 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,” said Payette in the statement. “I take harassment and workplace issues very seriously and I am in full agreement and welcome an independent review.”