In light of 'stark' $393K report into ex-GG Payette, PM reassessing how successor picked
OTTAWA -- Facing the fallout from the sudden departure of Julie Payette as Canada’s governor general, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reassessing the vetting process for top-level appointments to see how it can be improved to avoid future unprecedented departures.
“We are looking right now at processes that can be strengthened as we move forward, and we will have more to say on that as we make decisions,” Trudeau said, speaking publicly on Friday about the next steps following Payette’s resignation. Trudeau was noncommittal about what potential reforms are on the way.
Payette’s announcement on Thursday that she was leaving her high-profile role came just hours after news broke that the independent investigation into workplace harassment allegations against her was completed, and the details of the report were “damaging.”
President of the Queen's Privy Council Dominic LeBlanc’s office confirmed to CTVNews.ca that the final cost of the review was $393,367.13, including taxes.
In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing on Sunday, LeBlanc said that the report is approximately 125 pages long, includes interviews with staff at Rideau Hall, and will be released in a redacted form to protect the identities of participants. It could be made public as early as next week.
“It was a workplace that was clearly inappropriate, it was not a safe and secure workplace. We've seen words used to talk about a toxic or poisonous workplace. The report painted a very stark picture and those allegations were serious, and they were wide-ranging,” he said.
“The lawyers are right now finalizing and translating a version of the report that can properly be made public, and as soon as it's available in the coming days I would expect that it's public,” said LeBlanc, adding he intends to release “everything that we possibly can, as quickly as we can… in the next few days.”
In her departure statement, Payette apologized for “tensions” at Rideau Hall over recent months.
“Everyone has a right to a healthy and safe work environment, at all times and under all circumstances. It appears this was not always the case at the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General,” Payette said.
Sources have told CTV News that Trudeau asked Payette to resign during a conversation on Wednesday, given the findings of the independent review that was initiated by the Privy Council Office. In the months prior, the prime minister had defended the embattled Payette, saying she was an "excellent" representative for the Queen and he was not considering replacing her.
The Privy Council Office will now be playing a role in the coming days, working directly with the employees on rebuilding trust and establishing a healthy workplace, LeBlanc said.
Addressing Canadians from his Rideau Cottage residence on Friday morning, the prime minister said that everyone deserves a healthy and safe work environment, including the employees who work at Rideau Hall.
Asked about the responsibility he bears, the prime minister did not apologize for his choice, and offered few specifics on next steps.
“Obviously the work that has been done by people working at Rideau Hall over the past years has always been exceptional. They fulfill important duties for Canadians, and as we saw were sometimes in very difficult situations. We want to thank them for their work and reassure them that we will continue to stand up for workplaces that are safe and secure everywhere in the government,” he said.
SPOKE WITH QUEEN ABOUT PAYETTE
Trudeau was also on the phone with Queen Elizabeth II Friday morning, to inform her that Canada's Chief Justice Richard Wagner will oversee the role’s key constitutional powers until he recommends a formal replacement for Payette.
A royal spokesperson has acknowledged the call between the prime minister and the Queen to discuss recent events, but would not elaborate on what the pair discussed.
On an interim basis, Wagner is serving as the administrator of the powers the governor general holds, but the prime minister has said recommendations for a formal replacement will be sent to the Queen soon.
“Canadians need not be concerned about political or constitutional concerns on that level,” he said. "Obviously, as we move forward we will reflect carefully on the way to best select a successor.”
LeBlanc said the federal government is “hoping in the next month or so” to be in a position to have a successor in place.
“We're not going to drag it on, and it's not fair to the Chief Justice, and I think Rideau Hall deserves to have a full time occupant there doing that important work,” he said.
LeBlanc—whose father Romeo LeBlanc was once the governor general— said he first had access to the report a week before Payette resigned, and that his office had the report for a few days before speaking with Payette about it. .
CALLS FOR CONSULTATIONS ON NEXT PICK
Since Payette was sworn in as governor general in 2017, following a career as an astronaut and scientist, her tenure has been plagued by controversy from the outset. Trudeau did not use the pre-existing arms-length committee used by the previous Conservative government to recommend vice-regal nominees.
He was questioned Friday about his government’s failure in thoroughly examining Payette’s past employment history, which has included allegations of similar improper workplace behaviour when she worked at the Montreal Science Centre and the Canadian Olympic Committee.
“Obviously the vetting process with respect to this particular appointment was not ideal, it wasn't, in terms of rigor, what it should have been,” LeBlanc said.
Given the significance of a governor general during minority parliaments, the prime minister is facing calls from the Official Opposition to consult other parties before nominating a potential replacement.
“Considering the problems with his last appointment and the minority Parliament, the Prime Minister should consult opposition parties and re-establish the Vice-Regal Appointments Committee,” O’Toole said in a statement.
If a minority government loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons, the prime minister would then have to request Parliament be dissolved. The governor general then has the discretion whether to agree to that, and call an election, or allow another party in the House to attempt to form a government that would have the confidence of the House.
The governor general is also in charge of turning bills into law through royal assent, and some constitutional experts have raised concerns about it being problematic to have the top judge signing off on laws that may appear before them in the future.
On Friday morning, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his main concern is for the workers at Rideau Hall, and said he understands the concerns some have about Payette receiving an annuity as a former governor general.
“What we should be doing is making sure we make the right decision in the first place. But anytime there is inappropriate conduct, particularly towards employees, we've got to take a really hard look at: is that behaviour being rewarded, or is it being discouraged? And what do our actions tell the employees? In this case, there are some serious concerns that are being raised by this behaviour,” Singh said. “Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberal government had a responsibility to protect these workers, and they failed.”
Trudeau was unspecific on whether he plans to include the opposition when choosing the next governor general, and whether changes to the annual payment or expense allowances will be made in this case.
“This country has very clear rules and regulations, and processes and procedures in place to follow in these cases of reporting expenses or indeed on annuities for governor generals. Those processes will be followed, but obviously, we're always open to having discussions on changes that need to be made moving forward,” Trudeau said.
With files from CTV News’ Ben Cousins.