Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is facing allegations of creating a toxic work environment and mistreating her staff at Rideau Hall. But while workplace misconduct may be inappropriate, is it unconstitutional or grounds for removal?
Payette was selected for her role in 2017 and is expected to remain at her post for another two years. If she were to be dismissed from her duties, she would be the first Governor General to ever be fired in Canada’s history.
CBC News first reported the accusations on Tuesday, detailing verbal abuse and an atmosphere of “bullying and harassment at its worst,” in which Payette “yelled at, belittled and publicly humiliated employees” and threw tantrums in her office, citing multiple anonymous sources who claimed Payette’s behaviour led to the resignation of at least four staffers.
Payette’s press secretary, Ashlee Smith, denied those allegations in a statement Tuesday, claiming CBC’s reporting has “no basis in the reality of working at the OSGG (Office of the Secretary to the Governor General), and obscures the important work done by our dedicated staff in honouring, representing, and showcasing Canadians.”
Smith touted a lower-than-average turnover rate at the Rideau Hall office, adding that “no formal complaint regarding harassment has been made” through any internal channels during Payette’s mandate.
How is the Governor General appointed?
The Governor General acts as representative of the Queen. A person is appointed by the Queen, based on the advice of the prime minister.
Removing a Governor General is possible and appears to be a fairly simple process. Unless a Governor General dies or is incapacitated, the removal of a Governor General is the sole prerogative of the Queen — although the prime minister may offer their advice.
“My understanding is you wouldn’t fire a Governor General, you would replace a Governor General,” said John Milloy, Wilfrid Laurier University’s political science practitioner-in-residence and a former provincial cabinet minister.
“There is no document that I’m aware of that says if you do X or Y, you lose your job. They serve at the pleasure of the Queen. … They are Governor General until the Queen decides they’re not Governor General.”
Asking a Governor General to resign would be a last resort, done behind closed doors after the prime minister and Clerk of the Privy Council have done all they could to fix the problem, Milloy said.
“You never want to put the Queen in any kind of controversy or awkward situation,” he said. “I don’t really see anyone dragging the Queen into this.”
Where does Trudeau stand?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Wednesday in the House of Commons that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first step in addressing the allegations should be to investigate the complaints.
“There is no question there is an obligation, a responsibility of the prime minister in this case, with the Governor General and the complaints that we’ve seen, to do something, to follow up with those complaints,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Wednesday.
“I’m not being prescriptive about what the prime minister must do exactly.”
When pressed by Singh on the allegations, Trudeau answered indirectly.
“Every Canadian has the right to a safe, secure workspace, free from harassment and that is extremely important,” he said.
Peter Woolstencroft, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Waterloo, told Global News that he expects Trudeau’s choice to appoint Payette, a former Canadian astronaut without political experience, will be brought into question as he deals with this controversy.
“The last thing that the prime minister needs is another big problem,” he said.
“He has an advisory committee and names are put forward, but in the end, it’s his choice… Did he really searching questions about her character?”
The closest the country has ever come to firing someone in a vice-regal role was when Jean-Louis Roux announced his resignation as lieutenant governor of Quebec on Nov. 5, 1996, after admitting he wore a Nazi swastika while he was in university. He died in 2013.