NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, January 23rd, 2021

A spectacular fall to earth: Canada’s Governor General Julie Payette resigns in ignominy

On the day Pres­i­dent Biden took his oath of office in “the States”, Canada’s cer­e­mo­ni­al head of state was prepar­ing to resign after a blis­ter­ing gov­ern­ment-autho­rized review found she cre­at­ed a tox­ic work environment.

It was a dra­mat­ic fall to earth for Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al Julie Payette, a two-time Space Shut­tle astro­naut tapped for Canada’s top offi­cial (but apo­lit­i­cal) posi­tion in 2017 by Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau. Payette had already stirred con­tro­ver­sy for fre­quent absences from Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

The Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al offi­cial­ly rep­re­sents Queen Eliz­a­beth II in Cana­da. Each of the country’s ten provinces has a Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor who also rep­re­sents the queen, but at the provin­cial lev­el. The Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor for British Colum­bia resides at Gov­ern­ment House on a low hill in Victoria.

The Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al is offi­cial­ly head of state. They call the win­ners of nation­al elec­tions to form a gov­ern­ment and swear in cab­i­net ministers.

If a gov­ern­ment los­es a con­fi­dence vote in the House of Com­mons, the Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al can ask an oppo­si­tion leader to try and form a gov­ern­ment. The Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al is also tit­u­lar com­man­der of the country’s armed forces.

Why have such a posi­tion? A lot of Cana­di­ans are ask­ing that ques­tion right now. The Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al is sup­posed to be a uni­fy­ing sym­bol, mir­ror­ing a role occu­pied by Queen Eliz­a­beth across the pond, as are Her Majesty’s vicere­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the provinces. (Dur­ing din­ners at Gov­ern­ment House in Vic­to­ria, the Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor is piped in and out with all standing.)

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for Cana­da, Julie Payette wasn’t prop­er­ly vet­ted for the job. Trudeau and his father, the late Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau, have acquired a rep­u­ta­tion for wing­ing it on appointments.

Some­times their choic­es work. The elder Trudeau tapped famed Van­cou­ver archi­tect Arthur Erick­sen to design Canada’s spec­tac­u­lar embassy on Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., with its sculp­ture by native artist Bill Reid in the foy­er. Then-Prime Min­is­ter Bri­an Mul­roney groused that his ambas­sador in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., had bet­ter digs than the Prime Minister’s office in Ottawa.

Payette need­ed back­ground checks. When appoint­ed in 2017, she was com­ing off a con­tentious divorce. She had been arrest­ed six years ear­li­er in assault charges against her then-hus­band. The charges were lat­er with­drawn. Payette fought unsuc­cess­ful­ly in court to keep records sealed from news organizations.

A week after her appoint­ment came news that Payette had been cleared for involve­ment in a 2011 car acci­dent in which a fifty-five-year-old woman was killed. Payette was then liv­ing in Mary­land as part of her astro­naut train­ing. The court not­ed that the deceased had pre-exist­ing med­ical con­di­tions and poor eyesight.

Payette came under crit­i­cism for her work eth­ic, break­ing the tra­di­tion that the Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al vis­its all ten provinces as well as Canada’s ter­ri­to­ries dur­ing their first year in office. She missed Man­i­to­ba, Saskatchewan and the Yukon.

The worst news came last July, when the CBC report­ed that Payette, as Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al, was the Great White North’s boss-from-hell, harass­ing, belit­tling, and reduc­ing “some staff mem­bers to tears, caus­ing mul­ti­ple peo­ple to quit.”

Her exec­u­tive sec­re­tary, Assun­ta di Loren­zo, was accused of bul­ly­ing, and call­ing staff “incom­pe­tent” and “lazy”, along with Payette.

The end came at a meet­ing Wednes­day night with Trudeau. On Thurs­day, she announced: “For the good of our coun­try and of our demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions, I have come to the con­clu­sion that a new Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al should be appointed.”

Gov­er­nors Gen­er­al of Cana­da were named by the Brits until 1952. Since then, the Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al is appoint­ed on rec­om­men­da­tion of the Prime Minister.

Over the years, the post has been held by sev­er­al now infa­mous figures.

Lord Stan­ley donat­ed the ini­tial cup, now known as the Stan­ley Cup, award­ed to the Nation­al Hock­ey League’s cham­pi­on. Tweedsmuir Provin­cial Park in British Colum­bia bears the name of John Buchan, the 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, known for his nov­el “The 39 Steps”, which was made into a thriller by Alfred Hitchcock.

Lord Grey, a British noble­man, served as Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al from 1904 to 1911. He made a phys­i­cal­ly demand­ing trip across B.C.’s Pur­cell Moun­tains. One of the great back­coun­try hik­ing des­ti­na­tions in Cana­da, Earl Grey Pass, bears his name. A near­by peak is named Lady Grey.

Inclu­sive­ness has become a theme of Trudeau’s Lib­er­al Par­ty in nam­ing Gov­er­nors Gen­er­al in recent years. A Hong Kong-born broad­cast­er, Adri­enne Clark­son, became the first Chi­nese Cana­di­an Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al. She took great in the far north, under­tak­ing a trip to Ice­land, Nor­way and Russia.

The vice regal Clark­son was a regal pres­ence but immersed her­self in the job. She was suc­ceed­ed by Michaelle Jean, a Hait­ian-born French lan­guage broadcaster.

The next Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al will face challenges.

The Lib­er­al Par­ty of Trudeau has a minor­i­ty of seats in par­lia­ment. A no-con­fi­dence vote could pass in the House of Com­mons should all three oppo­si­tion par­ties vote for it. A new nation­al elec­tion could come lat­er this year.

Trudeau is a lit­tle chas­tened by the Julie Payette deba­cle, and is mak­ing state­ments that all employ­ees of the Gov­ern­ment of Cana­da are enti­tled to a safe and abuse-free work­place regard­less of who they work for.

The oppo­si­tion Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty leader Erin O’Toole offered up con­struc­tive and under­stat­ed advice: “Con­sid­er­ing his (Trudeau’s) last appoint­ment and the minor­i­ty par­lia­ment, the Prime Min­is­ter should con­sult oppo­si­tion par­ties and reestab­lish the Vice Regal Appoint­ments Com­mis­sion.”

The Monar­chist League of Cana­da, in a state­ment, sug­gest­ed look­ing across the pond for inspi­ra­tion: “It is impor­tant to remem­ber that the Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al rep­re­sents the admired head of state, the Queen.”

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One Comment

  1. Adri­enne Clark­son got her sur­name from her first hus­band Pro­fes­sor Stephen Clark­son (m. 1963; div. 1975).

    As Gov­er­nor-Gen­er­al her con­sort was John Ral­ston Saul. They mar­ried in 1999 to appease pub­lic sentiment.

    She came to Cana­da at the age of three. Her sis­ter-in-law Vivi­enne Poy became a Cana­di­an Senator.

    # by Bill Lee :: January 25th, 2021 at 2:07 PM