NP View: Trudeau botched Payette appointment. Her replacement should be dull as dishwater

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In the midst of a national health crisis, and with a minority government in Ottawa, the last thing this country needed was the historically unprecedented resignation of a sitting governor general. But here we find ourselves, with an entirely preventable, and not completely unpredictable, mini constitutional crisis on our hands, all because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to eschew his predecessor’s non-partisan selection process and chose a celebrity candidate to bolster the Liberal government’s progressive credentials, rather than finding the right person for the job.

Julie Payette, who had been governor general since 2017, resigned last week, following the completion of a report into allegations of a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall. The heavily redacted report paints a damning picture of the workplace, in which employees levelled allegations of “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliation.”

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Although the review into the allegations that first came to light in July was not set up to “make findings of fact or determine whether reported conduct took place,” it was conclusive in its determination that the accusations levelled against the governor general amounted to “a toxic workplace.”
This is the kind of conduct that is completely unbecoming of someone whose role is to represent no less than Her Majesty the Queen. It is also the type of behaviour that should have been foreseeable, had Trudeau done his due diligence before selecting Payette for the viceregal role.
Not long after the allegations about Payette’s conduct at Rideau Hall were made public, many of her former employees at the Montreal Science Centre and Canadian Olympic Committee, where she worked before becoming governor general, began speaking out about similar problems with Payette’s leadership.
In interviews with the Post, numerous current and former science centre employees described situations that mirrored the allegations made by those working at Rideau Hall, including being berated by their boss and leaving meetings in tears. During her tenure as CEO, which lasted all of three years, numerous employees quit due to Payette’s management style.
Payette abruptly resigned in 2016, without giving so much as an explanation for her departure. In the six months between running the Montreal Science Centre and becoming governor general, Payette was appointed to the board of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), where two staff members also complained about how the former astronaut treated them.

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None of this was known to the general public at the time, but given that the Montreal Science Centre is owned by a Crown corporation, the Canada Lands Company (CLC), and considering the COC’s close association with government, it should have been easy to uncover this information if Payette was properly vetted. She obviously was not.
A former CLC board member told the CBC that they were “blown away when she got appointed,” noting that, “This is a Crown corporation owned by the government … you would have thought they’d call to check out her credentials.”
Perhaps the Prime Minister’s Office would have uncovered this information if it were looking for someone who was up to the task of running a large institution like the office of the governor general and performing all the ceremonial, yet critical, duties that come with it. But it seems rather clear that Trudeau, who made much hay about achieving gender parity in cabinet, was simply trying to check the box of appointing a celebrity female STEM advocate to one of the highest offices in the land.
In a brief statement issued after she was sworn in, Trudeau praised Payette for being “an inspiration for all of us,” and for having “already inspired so many to dream big,” while assuring the public that she would “inspire countless Canadians in her new role.” We were inspired all right, just not in the way Trudeau intended.
The problem was not that Trudeau appointed someone who he thought would be a role model, but that he went for form over substance, choosing a token candidate who looked good on paper but did not have the right sensibilities to be the Queen’s representative. It wasn’t long after Payette ascended to the role that it became clear that her particular set of talents were not well suited to the job.

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Within her first year in office, we were already hearing complaints that Payette was pushing back against performing even her most basic duties, including reports that she tried to get out of the royal assent ceremony for the government’s cannabis legalization bill because she didn’t want to rearrange her schedule.
Whether it was severely curtailing the governor general’s public appearances, refusing to adhere to longstanding traditions, clashing with her security detail or racking up huge expenses for questionable renovations to Rideau Hall, her tenure saw no shortage of scandal.
Had Trudeau continued to adhere to the system set up by his predecessor Stephen Harper — in which a non-partisan advisory committee came up with recommendations for governors general and lieutenant governors — he could have avoided blame for this unseemly situation. Instead, he chose to disband the committee and make a political decision on an appointment to a decidedly apolitical role.

This time around, the prime minister would be wise to avoid any celebrity candidates, and instead choose someone as dull as dishwater; a candidate who is trusted by both the government and the Opposition to make fair, non-partisan decisions; and a person with enough knowledge of our Constitution to treat the role with the respect it deserves.

National Post

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