In the midst of the WE Charity scandal, the news cycle is now dealing with what I like to call the “ME Charity case.”
This refers to the growing controversy surrounding Julie Payette, the 29th governor general of Canada since Confederation.
I, and a few other columnists and political commentators, thought she was a questionable choice even before she assumed office on Oct. 2, 2017.
“It’s great that it’s being given to a woman,” some said at the time.
I’m sure that made her three female predecessors – Jeanne Sauvé, Adrienne Clarkson and Michaëlle Jean – feel incredibly small and insignificant.
“She has formidable education and experience,” others pointed out.
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In the fields of engineering and aeronautics, yes. With respect to politics, it was nada, nil and zilch. While you obviously don’t have to be a politician or political staffer to become governor general, having a tiny bit of experience in a related field doesn’t hurt. Payette didn’t have any.
“As a political outsider, she’ll bring a fresh voice and point of view to the table,” others trumpeted.
That last one has really worked out brilliantly, don’t you think?
CBC News reported on July 21 that former Rideau Hall employees said Payette had “created a toxic environment at Rideau Hall by verbally harassing employees to the point where some have been reduced to tears or have left the office altogether.”
This came after four members of her communications team left during COVID-19, with a fifth person about to leave – and two others on leaves of absence.
“This has gone from being one of the most collegial and enjoyable work environments for many of the staff to being a house of horrors,” an anonymous government source told CBC’s Ashley Burke and Kirsten Everson. “It’s bullying and harassment at its worst.”
According to a followup piece by Burke on July 31, “Sixteen sources with direct knowledge of the alleged harassment have told CBC News that Payette has yelled at, belittled and publicly humiliated employees.”
Meanwhile, “in one four-month period during Payette’s mandate, roughly two dozen people reported abusive conduct” by either the Governor General or her second-in-command, Assunta Di Lorenzo.
Oh, wait – there’s more.
Burke noted on Aug. 6 that Payette “still hasn’t moved into her official residence almost three years into her five-year mandate.” This was news to me, as I thought her initial reluctance to move into Rideau Hall due to privacy concerns had been resolved.
Moreover, she’s spent more than $250,000 to meet certain “requirements” before she finally settles in. What does that constitute, pray tell?
According to the National Capital Commission, it includes “almost $140,000, spent studying and designing a private staircase that was never built, and more than $117,500 on a gate and series of doors to keep people away from Payette’s office.”
When asked about these controversies on Aug. 7, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “I believe that function, having that function, having that role has served our country, very, very well over time. And I think Canadians have a great respect for the office of the governor general and I have that respect, as well.”
What does that mean?
As I told Hamilton radio host Bill Kelly on Monday, Freeland believes in the importance of this office – but likely has a different private opinion about the current officeholder.
The federal government is stuck with Payette for the moment. There’s no historical precedent for removing a governor general in Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s hands are tied.
The only person who could technically fire Payette is Queen Elizabeth II and that’s unlikely.
“You basically have to weigh, from the prime minister’s point of view, is it worth the aggravation to have this buzzing around if it continues as a controversy in the coming months?” Carleton University professor Philippe Lagassé told CTV News on Aug. 9.
“In an ideal situation, you would want this to be solved in a way that allows both parties to save face, which is something that both groups can agree to mutually without bringing in the palace.”
There’s another option. Payette could do the honourable thing and resign.
Then again, that decision would likely be far too charitable.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.
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