Canadian Governor General Julie Payette resigns after toxic workplace report

The Queen’s representative in Canada has resigned from her position as Governor General, after a report has found she presided over a hostile work environment.

An independent report that commenced in September, examined the workplace culture at Rideau Hall – the office of the Canadian Governor General – and found that Julie Payette and her deputy, Assunta Di Lorenzo, ‘presided over a toxic work environment’, writes CBC.

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A heavily redacted report was released last night, under the country’s Access to Information Act. It includes allegations from staff members of ‘yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations’.

43 staff described the it as ‘hostile or negative’ as a workplace, while a further 26 used the words ‘toxic’ or ‘poisoned’ as descriptors of the atmosphere.

Payette is a former astronaut, who was appointed to the role of Governor General in 2017, succeeding David Johnstone.

The Queen appoints a Governor in her 15 realms on the advice of the country’s Prime Minister (including in Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Tuvalu and Barbados). But critics have suggested that Justin Trudeau did not properly vet Payette before choosing her for the role, after reports that Ms Payette harassed staff in previous positions.

Di Lorenzo is a lawyer and friend of Payette’s and not an experienced civil servant as is usually the case for the role of secretary.

The role is largely ceremonial, for example, receiving ambassadors and foreign Heads of State, granting royal assent to legislation passed by Parliament, and dissolving Parliament for an election on the advice of the Prime Minister. The appointee maintains direct contact with The Queen on their work. The Canadian position is served at Her Majesty’s pleasure, meaning it is not for a fixed term, although five years is the convention.

Julie Payette installed as Canada’s new Governor-General

The vast majority of participants interviewed for the report described experiences that would be ‘objectively considered’ concerning, the report said.

“The results presented in this report and in particular the expressions of distrust, fear and lack of confidence by participants that meaningful change will occur, must be acknowledged in any efforts to address the situation.”

Other comments came from employees that there was no way to report such behaviours, and felt they had to turn to the media. 13 people additionally reported they took sick leave during Payette’s time in office due to the work atmosphere, and a further 17 said they left their jobs because of this.

Payette resigned her position to Prime Minister Trudeau on 21st January, releasing a statement that accepted there were ‘tensions’ within the office, but highlighted that there were no ‘formal complaints or official grievances’ made during her time as Governor General. Such acts would have triggered an investigation.

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“Everyone has a right to a healthy and safe work environment, at all times and under all circumstances,” Payette wrote. “It appears this was not always the case at the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. Tensions have arisen at Rideau Hall over the past few months and for that, I am sorry.”

“We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better, and be attentive to one another’s perceptions … in respect for the integrity of my vice-regal Office and 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.”

By stepping down she prevented Trudeau from having to ask The Queen to remove her – averting a constitutional crisis.

Justin Trudeau commented: “Every employee in the government of Canada has the right to work in a safe and healthy environment, and we will always take this very seriously. Today’s announcement provides an opportunity for new leadership at Rideau Hall to address the workplace concerns raised by employees during the review.”

There have been calls for Payette to be stripped of her pension that comes with the role; Governors General are legally entitled to a lifelong pension of $149,484 (CAD), or roughly £86,000, per year. Erin O’Toole, leader of the opposition, said that Ms Payette should not be entitled to claim these benefits. “She resigned her role. She should not be able to access the normal courtesies provided to governor generals.”

Chief Justice Richard Wagner is currently performing the duties of the office, but the Privy Council Office is expected to advise Trudeau on a replacement this week.

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