COMMENTARY: Payette’s resignation doesn’t let Trudeau off the hook


On the surface, it seems like Canada’s governor general problem has been neatly resolved. Julie Payette clearly needed to resign and indeed she has done so. We can all move on now, right?

Not so fast.

It is not just rare for a governor general to resign under a cloud of scandal, it’s completely unprecedented. Canadians may have all sorts of other concerns and distractions at the moment, but it’s not unreasonable that there be an accounting for how this appointment went sideways, what red flags were missed, and to what extent we can be assured of avoiding a repeat in the future.

Ultimately, Ms. Payette bears responsibility for her behaviour and her conduct during her historically short tenure as governor general. But the person who put her there in the first place – the person who felt that this was the best possible choice to fill this important position – bears a share of responsibility, too. And that person, of course, is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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Read more:
From a ‘great adventure’ to resignation — The rise and fall of Julie Payette

After a quiet six months since allegations of workplace bullying first came to light, events unfolded rather quickly and spectacularly this past week. Thursday morning we learned that the investigation into those allegations had wrapped up and that a “scathing” report had been submitted to the government. By the afternoon, Payette had submitted her resignation.

Had Payette dug in her heels, it could have created a rather awkward situation for Trudeau. A prime minister cannot fire a governor general — only the Queen (or King) can do so. We are fortunate to have avoided such a spectacle.

But there’s no avoiding the wreckage of this rather troubled tenure. While we haven’t yet seen the report itself, it seems fair to conclude that the wreckage here includes the damage done to those who were on the receiving end of Payette’s bullying and wrath.

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There’s also the question of the damage done to the institution itself.

The position of governor general is a unique, often misunderstood, job. It is one that comes with a fair amount of perks, most notably an annual salary of $288,900 and an annual retirement annuity of approximately $150,000.

One could add Rideau Hall to that list of perks, but Payette never actually moved into the official residence. That didn’t stop taxpayers from shelling out a quarter of a million dollars in renovations — ostensibly because Payette wanted more privacy. It’s very much in keeping with what appears to be Payette’s apathy, if not disdain, for many of the duties and responsibilities that come with being governor general. It’s almost as though she never really wanted the job in the first place.

If the job doesn’t matter to the person holding it, then it’s harder to convince Canadians that it matters.

Read more:
Julie Payette debacle shows need for vetting process improvements, LeBlanc says

Which brings us back to Trudeau, and what brought him to the conclusion that this was the clear and obvious candidate to be Canada’s next governor general. For now, Trudeau certainly isn’t acknowledging any degree of responsibility or accountability for the situation

There have, however, been numerous reports suggesting that the vetting process here was flawed, at best. That raises all sorts of questions about how this was handled by the PMO and questions about the judgment of the prime minister himself. How politicized was the process and the decision?

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The government now seems to be conceding the point that the vetting process is not adequate and is in need of improvement, which seems to contradict the defence that everything was handled properly in this case.

In the meantime, the position of governor general is vacant at a time when Canada’s minority government seems somewhat precarious. And now, presumably, the same government that mishandled the last appointment gets the opportunity to do it all again.

At the very least, the Liberals need to include the other parties in the process of selecting the next governor general. But that doesn’t negate the need for answers on what went wrong with the last pick.

Rob Breakenridge is host of ‘Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge’ on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.




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