Liberal government kicks off new process to choose a governor general

·3 min read
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced heavy criticism over his approach to choosing Julie Payette for the job of governor general. (Adrian Wyld, Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced heavy criticism over his approach to choosing Julie Payette for the job of governor general. (Adrian Wyld, Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The federal government has unveiled its new process to select a governor general to succeed Julie Payette, who resigned earlier this year in the wake of a workplace review that found she presided over a "toxic" and "poisoned" workplace.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced the creation of a new advisory board — chaired by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and the country's top bureaucrat, interim Clerk of the Privy Council Janice Charette — which will draw up a short list of candidates to take on the vice-regal position.

"Recognizing the unique nature of the situation and understanding that the position of governor general needs to be filled on an expedited basis, the members of the advisory group have agreed to work quickly," LeBlanc said in a media statement.

"Together, the advisory group will endeavour to make the best possible recommendations to the prime minister."

Other members of the advisory board are: Daniel Jutras, the rector at the Université de Montréal and a past member of the government's advisory board for Senate appointments; Judith LaRocque, the chair of the Canadian Museum of Nature and a former secretary to the governor general; Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami; and Suromitra Sanatani, the chair of Canada Post.

Trudeau said last month the vetting process going forward will be more robust. The prime minister has come in for heavy criticism over his approach to choosing Payette for the job — such as his decision to not use former prime minister Stephen Harper's advisory committee process to suggest suitable candidates.

Opposition parties have been pushing to be part of the selection process and have suggested Trudeau got swept up in the celebrity status of Payette, a former astronaut.

CBC News reported in September that Trudeau's office failed to check with at least two key past employers before appointing Payette. Those background checks could have revealed that she was given severance of roughly $200,000 when she resigned from the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 following complaints about her treatment of employees, say multiple sources.

Payette also left the Canadian Olympic Committee in 2017 in the wake of two internal investigations into her treatment of staff, which included claims of verbal harassment, sources said.

Payette and her second-in-command, Assunta Di Lorenzo, resigned on Jan. 21 after receiving a copy of a blistering report from an outside workplace review. The Privy Council Office (PCO) launched a third-party review by Quintet Consulting after a CBC News story seven months ago quoted a dozen confidential sources claiming Payette belittled, berated and publicly humiliated staff. Di Lorenzo also was accused of bullying employees.

The workplace review documented allegations of "yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliation" that caused 13 participants in the review to go on sick leave and 17 to leave the office altogether.

Payette has maintained from the beginning that she takes issues of workplace harassment very seriously.

"Everyone has a right to a healthy and safe work environment, at all times and under all circumstances," she wrote in a media statement when she resigned. "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."