Canada

GG Julie Payette and Rideau Hall’s top bureaucrat resign in wake of damning workplace review

Gov. Gen. Payette has faced controversy since her 2017 nomination, including workplace complaints, questionable spending projects and refusing to live in Rideau Hall

OTTAWA — In a move without precedent in Canadian history, Governor General Julie Payette has resigned following a review into allegations she created a toxic, verbally abusive workplace at Rideau Hall.

Payette and the Secretary to the Governor General Assunta di Lorenzo were both alleged to have been verbally abusive towards Rideau Hall staff, belittling them and sometimes leaving them in tears. Di Lorenzo, a longtime friend of Payette’s, also resigned on Thursday.

“Everyone has a right to a healthy and safe work environment, at all times and under all circumstances,” said a statement from Payette. “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.”

Payette said “it is with sureness and humility, but also with pride over what was accomplished during my tenure as Governor General and in my service to the country for the past 28 years, that I have submitted my resignation.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Payette in person on Wednesday. A source with close knowledge of the situation said Trudeau had requested Payette’s resignation during the conversation. Payette submitted it the following day.

A short statement from Trudeau on Thursday said Payette “has fulfilled her duties to uphold parliamentary democracy and serve the public.”

“Every employee in the Government of Canada has the right to work in a safe and healthy environment, and we will always take this very seriously,” Trudeau’s statement said. “Today’s announcement provides an opportunity for new leadership at Rideau Hall to address the workplace concerns raised by employees during the review.”

Trudeau said a replacement for Payette will be announced “in due course.” In the meantime, Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner will fulfill the governor general’s duties.

Sources confirmed to the National Post that the review — prompted by CBC reporting last summer — runs to nearly 200 pages and paints an extremely negative picture of the workplace culture at Rideau Hall. Sources expect the government will release a summary of the findings but not the full report.

Payette’s downfall comes a little more than three years after she entered the office to great fanfare, a female astronaut with a sterling resume. But her tenure was plagued by controversy after controversy, and sources with deep experience in Rideau Hall have told the Post they feel she was poorly vetted from the start for a position that requires sensitive diplomacy and attention to often arcane ceremonial detail.

Henein last made headlines in Ottawa for representing Vice Admiral Mark Norman, once the second-highest commanding officer in the military, as he defended himself against a criminal charge of breach of trust. Crown prosecutors eventually stayed the charge after concluding there wasn’t a reasonable prospect of conviction, and Norman reached a settlement with the government.

Di Lorenzo was an unusual hire by Payette. Di Lorenzo was a corporate lawyer from Montreal with no experience in federal government who was filling a position normally given to someone knowledgeable about government operations or in administering vice-regal affairs. Payette had a close friendship with di Lorenzo, who she met decades ago through an international baccalaureate program, but sources told the Post the workplace review put an extreme strain on their relationship.

Governor General Julie Payette delivers the speech from the throne as Parliament prepares to resume for the first time since the federal election, on Dec. 5, 2019. Photo by Blair Gable/Reuters

A statement from Conservative leader Erin O’Toole noted Payette is the “Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces and has an important constitutional role.”

“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.

Bloc Québécois MP Rhéal Fortin said that Payette’s resignation “further demonstrates that the government must immediately release the report on working conditions at Rideau Hall.” He also said the now-vacant post is “a great opportunity to question the usefulness of an outdated function that has no place in a democracy.”

Payette’s tenure as governor general has been filled with controversy since she was nominated in July 2017 and took office that October. Along with the workplace complaints, media reports have detailed questionable spending projects at Rideau Hall, Payette’s clashes with her security team, and Payette’s refusal to live in Rideau Hall even after renovations were complete.

Last August, the Post reported that Payette had also generated turmoil among staff at her previous job running the Montreal Science Centre due to her harsh management style, foreshadowing many of the same complaints that are now coming out at Rideau Hall.

In September 2018, about a year after Payette took office, the Post published a lengthy investigation into Payette’s difficult entry into Rideau Hall, with sources close to the situation fuming that the Prime Minister’s Office had not done its due diligence before appointing Payette into such a sensitive post.

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Although Payette’s statement says she takes the allegations of workplace abuse very seriously and encouraged employees to take part in the review, it also notes there were no “formal complaints or official grievances.” Other language indicates she does not agree with how the situation played out.

“I am a strong believer in the principles of natural justice, due process and the rule of law, and that these principles apply to all equally,” the statement said. “Notwithstanding, in respect for the integrity of my vice-regal Office and for the good of our country and of our democratic institutions, I have come to the conclusion that a new Governor General should be appointed. Canadians deserve stability in these uncertain times.”

Payette also said that “from a personal side, this decision comes at an opportune time, as my father’s health has seriously worsened in the last few weeks and my family needs my help.”

The review into Rideau Hall’s workplace culture was conducted by third-party firm Quintet Consulting and submitted recently to the Privy Council Office, the top federal department that reports to the Prime Minister’s Office.

The report is said to paint a damning picture of how Payette and di Lorenzo treated employees, and the fallout has been spreading through Rideau Hall for days.

Assunta Di Lorenzo/

Sources say di Lorenzo recently hired Marie Henein’s firm to represent her and had been conducting her interactions with the Privy Council Office through lawyers — an extraordinary situation for someone in di Lorenzo’s position, which is equivalent to a deputy minister and is supposed to be the conduit between government and the Governor General.

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