Gov. Gen. Julie Payette addresses 'missteps': 'I don't pretend to be perfect'
Published Friday, September 28, 2018 10:06PM EDT
If Julie Payette learned one thing during her first year as Governor General, she says it’s simple: “Communicate better.”
In a wide-ranging interview with CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme, Payette addressed recent reports that suggest she dislikes the high-profile role and may be quietly considering a way out.
Payette flatly denied plotting an exit.
“Oh God, no,” Payette said. “I’m so motivated about continuing the next year and making this mandate something that everybody will be proud of.”
Next Tuesday marks Payette’s first year on the job. A former astronaut and engineer, Payette has publicly advocated for science and said she plans to prioritize technological innovation and educational outreach in year two.
Payette admits that being an astronaut is “very different” from her new job and that -- unlike the world of science -- working as Governor General “starts right off the starting block with no instruction manual.”
A string of recent reports have called into question Payette’s happiness with the job. One report, published in the National Post, included unnamed senior government officials who suggested that Payette has become frustrated by last-minute schedule changes and said she regularly challenges long-held traditions linked to the role.
For example, Payette has not yet moved into the Governor General’s official residence, Rideau Hall. She has not presided over several key events connected to her office, including the Governor General’s Medals in Architecture.
The report also referenced senior government officials who wondered whether Payette secretly wants to leave.
“The perception we have to address,” Payette said. “I welcome comments. I think criticism can be very constructive and can help further. I mean there’s no perfect perfection anywhere. There’s no perfect picture. I don’t pretend to be perfect.
“I started this job and I learned and I had missteps and those missteps I corrected and I will continue to do that, because they’ll come again. It’s human nature. It is important for me to move ahead and to look forward to do that. I’m so motivated. I really feel that after the first year where we’ve crisscrossed Canada, where we’ve planned, we’ve looked forward on where we want to go.”
Cannabis bill uncertainty
The Post reported that Payette initially pushed back against signing the Liberal government’s landmark cannabis bill at a royal assent ceremony in June because she wasn’t happy to have her schedule changed on a whim.
“At the last minute, I was asked to move the date. We did and we signed it,” Payette told CTV News.
“We’re very, very rigorous on this here at Rideau Hall to ensure that every single step of the constitutional role never delays the good functioning of the government and that’s what we’ve done ... There’s a lot of back-and-forth, scheduling is complicated, but we don’t miss a beat and we don’t miss a deadline.”
As for why she hasn’t moved into Rideau Hall after 12 months on the job, Payette said the reason has to do with ongoing renovations to the mansion’s ballroom.
“It’s going to happen. For sure I’m going to come here. But before that we’re going to do the right things. We’re going to do the renovations. We’re going to refurbish the ballroom. It’s the most important room in this residence,” she said.
She added that she already works out of Rideau Hall every day: “I sort of live here.”
A large-scale review
Under Payette, all programming, travel and patronages connected to Rideau Hall were reportedly put under review. The move has left some non-profit organizations in the dark and raised questions about which events the governor general would attend.
Asked about the sweeping review, Payette said she wishes she could say yes to everything, but that’s “impossible.”
“We are working the schedule with the partners all the time. There are times when I’m not in the country because at the request of the government, I may have to travel. We are always working with them. It’s happened in the past with my predecessors that sometimes it just doesn’t add up but most of the time we try to make it work.”
The review is now complete, Payette said, adding that the results will be out soon.
“We just have a few more partners to touch base with before we can release completely to the public.”
Addressing 2011: ‘A very difficult year’
Since taking office, Payette’s past has made headlines.
In the summer of 2011, Payette was involved in a fatal car accident in which a visually impaired pedestrian jay-walked in front of her car.
The case was closed without charges in 2012. Payette sent a heartfelt letter to the victim’s family after the accident, saying she will “live for the rest of my life with the sorrow of having hurt another human being."
Payette admitted that 2011 was “a very difficult year for me -- that’s probably even an understatement.”
“Every event, whether they’re positive or negative, shapes us. And sometimes events happen that we couldn’t even fathom …But it’s behind me. I’ve moved forward. I’m an optimist.”
‘Failure is not an option’
Payette spoke about her dream of becoming an astronaut as a little girl and her hopes to inspire young people to follow their dreams.
But becoming governor general was never on her radar -- even when she got a call to meet Trudeau. She thought the prime minister wanted to discuss the selection of Canada’s two new astronauts.
When Trudeau asked her to consider taking the high-profile role, Payette said she was “floored.”
“It is the kind of thing you can’t say no to, so I asked a number of questions and I did talk to a number of people but I didn’t wait very long. Less than 24 hours. I think it’s very important. I truly believe that if your country calls, there’s only one answer possible.”
Asked about what she learned in her first year on the job, Payette said, “Communicate better.”
“And the team behind me is doing just that, so that’s why I would encourage folks to follow us. We’re on social media. We just launched a new website,” she said.
Going from an astronaut to governor general may seem like a leap, but Payette says the two jobs both have something in common: a need for discipline.
“I would say it’s very similar. And just like in my other job, using a NASA term, failure is not an option. Failure is not an option here. It is important.”
With a report from CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme