Trudeau government refuses to support Governor General Julie Payette under review

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Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland made a sharp distinction between her support for the Governor General’s office and its current occupant, Julie Payette, following CBC News reports showing unusual spending to respond to Payette’s requests for confidentiality. Payette is also criticized for claiming to have created a toxic work environment and a culture of fear at Rideau Hall. Seventeen sources told CBC News that Payette and her second in command verbally harassed workers to the point where waves of employees left the office.

Asked twice on Friday by CBC’s Tom Parry about her government’s confidence in Payette, Freeland offered her support for her office and the constitutional role it plays, but clearly did not express her explicit confidence in Payette.

“I think Canadians have great respect for the office of Governor General and I have that respect as well,” Freeland said.

“But for this Governor General?” Parry asked.

Freeland replied, “The office of the Governor General plays a very important role in this system. And, I think, like the overwhelming majority of Canadians, I have a great deal of respect for this office and for this role.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says she respects the office of the Governor General, but would not explicitly express her confidence in Payette herself. (Cole Burston / Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau selected Payette – a former astronaut, computer engineer, pilot, academic, musician and executive – to take on the role of Vice-Regal as the Queen’s representative in Canada in October 2017. The selection was made full of controversy from the start, and Trudeau has been particularly silent in offering any defense against it.

The National Post and Radio Canada also reported that Payette’s stay at the Montreal Science Center foreshadowed problems to come at Rideau Hall, raising questions about the Trudeau government’s audit process.

Trudeau has only publicly stated that his government is committed to ensuring that federally regulated workplaces are free from harassment. The Privy Council Office also launched an external and independent workplace investigation last month following the CBC report into the alleged harassment.

Although Payette’s role is primarily ceremonial, it can be important during a minority government. Payette is bound by constitutional convention to follow the advice of the Prime Minister if the Prime Minister requests the dissolution or prorogation of Parliament, but she is empowered to remove a government that has been defeated by a vote of confidence if it refuses to stand. remove.

Barbara Messamore, a history professor at the University of the Fraser Valley who studies the role of governors general, says the government of the day would normally respond to such criticism. Part of Payette’s role is to maintain the dignity of the office and she’s not supposed to respond to criticism, Messamore said.

“It is the Trudeau government that should speak up to defend the office,” she said. “This is not to protect Mrs. Payette, but to protect the dignity of the Crown. “

Trudeau and Payette attend Freeland’s swearing-in as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, November 20, 2019 (Justin Tang / Canadian Press)

Freeland also answered questions regarding Payette’s spending of more than $ 250,000 in public funds to study and design a private staircase for herself and to install access doors and a barrier around her office at Rideau Hall. Three years after starting her five-year tenure, Payette still hasn’t moved in and her office has called for more work.

“All of us who are privileged to serve Canadians really need to be aware that when we spend money, we are spending Canadians’ money,” Freeland said. “I think Canadian journalists and Canadians have every right to watch carefully how we spend Canadians’ money. ”

Payette’s press secretary Ashlee Smith previously suggested that it was not in the public interest to ask questions about Payette’s living conditions, saying it “seems contrary to respect for life and of a person’s privacy ”.

Smith also added that there are “unresolved issues regarding universal accessibility and privacy” at Rideau Hall. The office is also concerned about safety, she said, especially after a gunman drove his truck through the gates of Rideau Hall last month and walked to the house of the first minister before being arrested.

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