Prime Minister Trudeau served up a word salad under some aggressive questioning by reporters Friday on the resignation of Governor-General Julie Payette. Time after time he deflected questions about how the Payette fiasco reflects on his judgment. Reporters wanted to know whether he would reinstate the system implemented by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, where an independent committee vetted and made recommendations about appointing Governor’s General. He would only say that he was open to improving the GG selection process. Trudeau scrapped the vetting proves when he came into office and announced Payette’s appointment with great fanfare in 2017.
The Prime Minister did not provide an answer when asked how he could have missed the fact that Payette had a history of mistreating staff when she headed the Montreal Science Centre. There was also publicly available information from her time living in Maryland, when Payette reportedly struck and killed a pedestrian who had stepped off a curb in July 2011. The case was closed without charges in April 2012 as she was found not at fault. Payette was charged with second degree assault in Maryland, on November 24, 2011. At least one anonymously quoted source has alleged that the victim of the assault was her then-husband, Billie Flynn. Though the charges were later dropped, the couple split several weeks later and subsequently divorced. Payette has stated that charges were “unfounded” but refused to comment further on the circumstances leading to her being charged with assault.
Scathing Independent Report
The Privy-Council-commissioned report on her treatment of staff at Rideau Hall that resulted in Payette’s resignation, has been described as “scathing.” It will be released in a heavily redacted form to protect the identity of the staff members who provided information. Former Chretien communications chief Peter Donolo told CP24 that the Payette term was doomed to failure when she was allowed to appoint her friend Assunta di Lorenzo to run the operation—a job that normally goes to a seasoned bureaucrat at the deputy minister level. Serving and former staff told CBC and Postmedia that both women harassed and belittled staff regularly. The stories also charged that Payette did not appear to be interested in the details of the job; that government officials had to chase her to get bills signed and that she did not want to take part in some of the traditional roles of the GG.
Trudeau appeared to confirm that Payette will receive a lifetime annuity of $150,000 plus an additional $100,000 annually for expenses. Trudeau will need to appoint a new Governor-General soon as the role of the vice-regal figure takes on added significance in a minority government situation, since the office holder has the power, technically, to allow an election or to invite the opposition to form a government. The position will be temporarily be filled by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Richard Wagner.