Why Queen Elizabeth and the ‘nuclear option’ won’t likely come into play in the Payette controversy

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Our CBC colleague and senior reporter Mark Gollom took a look the other day at questions swirling around the future of Gov. Gen. Julie Payette:

The controversy surrounding Gov. Gen. Julie Payette has, at least in an indirect way, brought Queen Elizabeth’s name into the fray.

Revelations uncovered by CBC News of unusual spending by Payette and allegations of a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall have raised questions about the fate of Canada’s current governor general. 

And that fate, in theory, could rest in the Queen’s hands. 

That, in part, is because the Queen appoints the Governor General, on the advice of the prime minister. And it’s the Queen who, again on the advice of the prime minister, could fire the Governor General.

Experts agree the best solution — and the most likely solution in a case where a governor general is embroiled in controversy and the government would like them to depart — would be a resignation following the prime minister’s discreet suggestion.

Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Dec. 5, 2019. (The Canadian Press)

That, in part, is because firing a governor general would be a nearly unprecedented move — or, as described by Philippe Lagassé, a Carleton University associate professor and expert in the Westminster parliamentary system​​​, “the nuclear option.”

But if Payette refused to resign, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was determined to remove her, then yes, it would be up to the Queen to give her Canadian representative the official boot.

So far, Buckingham Palace has stayed silent. Following the CBC’s story regarding allegations that Payette verbally harassed staff, a spokesperson for the Queen said the palace had no comment on the matter. 

“It’s a matter for the GG’s office,” they told CBC News.

But could Buckingham Palace, which is ever so conscious about the Queen’s image, let it be known to the Trudeau government through some back channel that they want this issue handled?

Doubtful, say experts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced questions about the vetting process ahead of Payette’s appointment as Governor General. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“I do not think that Buckingham Palace and the Queen would themselves initiate anything with respect to a governor general,” said Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada at Massey College in Toronto.

The controversy with Payette is primarily seen as a Canadian issue, Lagassé said.

“The palace would be concerned if it affected the Queen’s image in some way,” he said. “That’s not really what we’re talking about.

“Right now, as far as they’re concerned, it’s for Canadians to figure it out.”

Barbara Messamore, a history professor at the University of the Fraser Valley in B.C. who studies the role of governors general, said any perception that it was “meddling in a strictly Canadian issue” could tarnish the monarchy. 

“People are very right, of course, that the Queen has a role insofar as she’s the one who makes the appointment and then accepts the resignation. But that would be absolutely on the advice of the prime minister and they would take a strictly hands-off approach to it.”

Payette receives an applause following her speech during her installation ceremony in the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 2, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Well, almost always. 

Because the governor general has the power to dismiss the prime minister, it is at least possible that the Queen might reject the advice of a prime minister to remove the governor general if she felt the prime minister was doing so to try to save their own political career.

“The Queen would only question the removal of the governor general if there’s a big constitutional crisis going on,” Jackson said. 

While an extremely unlikely event, during the 1975 constitutional crisis in Australia, then-Gov. Gen. John Kerr removed Gough Whitlam as prime minister.

“There was speculation: Was the prime minister trying to get to the Queen first to [remove] the governor general?” Jackson said.

A different take on Harry and Meghan

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pose for photographers in the grounds of Kensington Palace after their engagement was announced in London on Nov. 27, 2017. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

Our CBC colleague and London correspondent Renée Filippone reported on the publication of a new biography of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex:

Moments before walking in front of a throng of cameras at their engagement photo op in 2017, Meghan Markle whispered in Prince Harry’s ear: “You’ve got this.”

Personal details like that are revealed in the new unauthorized biography, Finding Freedom, which was published on Aug. 11

Co-authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand say they spoke with more than 100 sources close to the Royal Family to get the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s side of the story — from the beginning of their relationship to the controversial move earlier this year to leave their positions in “The Firm.”

“We really realized there was a massive difference … between what we were reading in some of the British tabloids compared to what was actually happening in reality,” said Scobie, a London-based royal correspondent.

That’s why they decided to write the book, Scobie said in an interview. And it’s clear from reading it that the authors have a very different take on the couple from how they have been covered in the U.K. tabloids.

Speculation about the relationship between Harry and Meghan, and his older brother Prince William, centre, and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, right, spread after they attended a service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9, 2020. (Phil Harris/The Associated Press)

“It wasn’t just her charming freckles, perfect smile or American accent — she laughs a little louder, and glows a little bit brighter,” reads a line in the book about Meghan, who has been labelled by some media as “Duchess Difficult.”

“We’ve tried to bring a fresh perspective to everything, and if someone says that’s biased, fine,” said Scobie. 

The book looks at the growing rift — often reported — between the Sussexes and Harry’s older brother, Prince William, and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. It describes William as unsupportive of Harry and Meghan’s relationship, revealing that early on he told Harry to take it slow with “this girl.”

“Harry was pissed off … that his brother would ask such a thing,” the authors write.

The book also says Meghan was disappointed that Kate didn’t have her back, and quotes a source saying, “Kate felt they didn’t have much in common ‘other than the fact that they lived at Kensington Palace.'”

Reviews of the book say it offers little new about what happened and is really just history told from Harry and Meghan’s perspective. One very critical review in the Telegraph was even titled “Harry and Meghan whinge for Britain in a self-pitying, juicy moanathon.” 

WATCH | Why Finding Freedom could add to deep royal wounds:

A new detailed book about Prince Harry and Meghan may not be as explosive as Princess Diana’s 1992 biography, but royal watchers say the information revealed will add to the deep wounds caused by the couple exiting their senior royal roles. 2:01

The authors say Harry and Meghan were not interviewed or involved, which Harry and Meghan backed up with their own statement. 

Roya Nikkhah, a royal correspondent for the Sunday Times, said she was surprised by the level of detail in the book.

It talks about the kind of emojis Harry would send Meghan, that they confessed their love for each other after three months of dating and that they fired a nanny in the middle of the night after she had been on the job for just two days.

“This is a couple who are so fiercely protective of their privacy to the point where they are currently litigating on multiple fronts,” Nikkhah said. 

Harry and Meghan may not have given the authours an interview, Nikkah said, but the pair did speak to them at some point. “Even in the book there is a mention of one of the authors speaking to Meghan on her final engagement, so they’ve certainly had access.”

Nikkhah said that people she has heard from in the royal household say while there were no great surprises in the book, “it’s not going to do anything to heal pretty deep wounds over … Harry and Meghan leaving the Royal Family to go to America.”

A down-to-earth royal turns 70

Princess Anne talks to guests during a reception at Buckingham Palace as NATO leaders gathered to mark 70 years of the alliance in London on Dec. 3, 2019. (Yui Mok/The Associated Press)

Princess Anne turned 70 on Saturday, a milestone birthday that has drawn renewed attention to the down-to-earth royal who has been having a cultural moment of her own over the past several months.

Interviews and her own published writing have focused on everything from the avid equestrian’s no-nonsense style and devotion to charitable works to a love of the countryside she said was instilled by her parents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

That devotion to charitable works — in particular therapeutic riding — has left a deep impression on one Canadian.

Daphne Davey of Crapaud, P.E.I., was president of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association. After sending correspondence to Anne, who is the organization’s patron, Davey was invited to meet with her in London. She had a half-hour, one-on-one session with Anne at Buckingham Palace in 2014. 

“It was so great because she could relate so well to the issues,” Davey said in an interview. “She’s been hands-on in England and other countries and visited a lot so she had a sense of what I was talking about … and we had a lot of laughs about individual stories and incidents.”

Princess Anne rides Goodwill during the equestrian competition at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. (Getty Images)

In that half-hour, Davey was struck by the matter-of-fact manner Anne is known for.

“She wants genuineness from other people. She’s very down-to-earth herself.”

Perhaps even literally in her work promoting therapeutic riding. “She really is happy to get the mud on her boots and meet the children on ponies in a muddy field,” said Davey.

“To be fitted in and given her whole attention … it’s totally and utterly genuine. I’m just so impressed.”

Now, as Anne turns 70, Davey said she appreciates what she has done for “our movement across the world and of course especially in Canada for therapeutic riding and its associated disciplines, because that has been so invaluable to us — and any accolades she has got have been well-deserved.”

Royals in Canada

Prince Philip inspects samples during a visit deep into the Port Radium uranium mine on Aug. 16, 1954. (Federal News Photos/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

When Prince Philip spent nearly three weeks on his own in Canada in the summer of 1954, the trip took him from official royal duties at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver to wearing overalls as he descended into the depths of a uranium mine in the Northwest Territories.

Much of the visit focused on Canadian developments in science and natural resources in the years after the Second World War, but there was also time for fishing in the wilds of Labrador.

“The Duke’s tour has spanned [the] ages from arrow to A-bomb,” the Vancouver Province reported at the time.

Philip has made more than 70 visits or stopovers to Canada since 1950. Many have been with Queen Elizabeth, but he has also made several solo visits, often focused on Commonwealth issues.

As the 1954 visit was drawing to a close on Aug. 17, news reports went into detail regarding his wilderness experience at Eagle River, 185 kilometres east of Goose Bay.

“Nobody else caught as many fish,” The Canadian Press reported, recounting his haul of 16 speckled trout and three salmon, the largest weighing in at 5.4 kilograms.

Royally quotable

“We have to go to the root of the problem, to the source of the problem, and actually fix it there. It’s going to take every single one of us. This is not down to the Black community, this is down to every single person that is on the planet right now.”

Royal reads

  1. A British judge has ruled that Meghan can keep the names of five close friends secret while she brings a privacy invasion lawsuit against a British newspaper. [CBC]

  2. The tomb of the only English Queen never to have set foot in the country is to be restored in France. The remains of Berengaria of Navarre, the wife of Richard I, have had a rather peripatetic history, including time spent in a barn. [The Guardian] 

  3. A musical based on the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, will premiere on Netflix ahead of opening on Broadway, making it the first production to premiere on the small screen before its official stage debut. [The Guardian]


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