Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is resigning.
The decision comes on the heels of the completion of a high-profile review into allegations of a “toxic” workplace at Rideau Hall, which sources tell Global News painted a “scathing” portrait of the Queen’s representative.
“Everyone has a right to a healthy and safe work environment, at all times and under all circumstances. 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,” said Payette in a statement.
“While no formal complaints or official grievances were made during my tenure, which would have immediately triggered a detailed investigation as prescribed by law and the collective agreements in place, I still take these allegations very seriously.,” she continued.
“Not only did I welcome a review of the work climate at the OSGG, but I have repeatedly encouraged employees to participate in the review in large numbers. We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better, and be attentive to one another’s perceptions.”
Payette said the uncertainty of the current times mean she should be replaced.
“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,” she 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.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he received Payette’s resignation in a statement Thursday, and confirmed that the chief justice of Canada would take over the duties of the governor general on an “interim basis.”
“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. Today’s announcement provides an opportunity for new leadership at Rideau Hall to address the workplace concerns raised by employees during the review,” read Trudeau’s statement.
“A recommendation on a replacement will be provided to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and announced in due course.”
Global News confirmed the report first broken by The Globe and Mail on Thursday morning that the independent review of workplace abuse allegations against Payette had been completed, and that it paints a damning picture of the governor general.
Sources tell Global News the results offered a stark choice to Payette: either step down or face removal.
The Privy Council Office hired Quintet Consulting Corporation in the fall to conduct the review.
It came after a series of allegations made against Payette by current and former staffers to several media organizations. CBC News first reported accounts by employees at Rideau Hall that Payette had yelled at and publicly humiliated staff members.
Individuals who subsequently spoke with Global News expressed similar experiences.
“Right from the beginning, I was appalled at what was going on,” one former employee said.
“At first, I was just like, ‘OK, I have to give myself time to figure this out,’ or ‘Maybe things are really busy right now and they’re tense, I don’t know,’” the individual continued.
“The atmosphere, the vibe, the stress, the constant barrage, it was just … it was unbearable.”
The individual asked to remain anonymous out of fears coming forward could damage their career prospects.
Those allegations added Payette and her secretary, Assunta Di Lorenzo, would “gang up” on staff, calling them “lazy” and belittling their work.
Employees left Di Lorenzo’s office in tears at least once a week, one source said.
Payette, a former astronaut, was appointed in 2017 in a process that has repeatedly faced scrutiny over whether she was appropriately vetted before being named to the prestigious post.
Governors general are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the prime minister, and serve as the monarch’s representative and head of the Canadian state — a position above head of government, which is the prime minister.
Because of that, Trudeau cannot technically fire her on his own the way he might a senior political staffer or advisor.
Instead, he would have needed to take the highly unusual step of speaking with the Queen directly and asking her to dismiss Payette if she refused to step down from the position.
According to the Library of Parliament, there is no evidence such a thing has ever happened before in Canada, nor is there evidence of a Canadian prime minister ever calling for a governor general to resign.
“The governor general would be very foolish if she tried to push back against a request that she resign,” said Barbara Messamore, a historian and a fellow at the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada at Massey College.
“Anyway you look at it, it can’t end well for Madame Payette.”
Messamore added there is a clear plan in place for this kind of situation.
“If the governor general resigned, there’s a plan for continuity of that function. The chief justice of the Supreme Court could fill in until a successor could be appointed,” she said.
“I think it’s especially important at a time of minority government and a lot of difficult challenges that we have somebody in the post who seems to exercise sound judgment.”
One senior Liberal source who spoke to Global News said there has been significant tension between Payette and Trudeau since the review began in the fall, with Payette giving the impression she was resentful at a perceived lack of public support from the prime minister.
Trudeau called Payette an “excellent” governor general in September.
“We have an excellent governor general right now and I think on top of the COVID crisis, nobody is looking at any constitutional crises,” Trudeau said at the time.
“We have put in place a process to review some of the working conditions at Rideau Hall but that’s not something we’re contemplating right now going further than that.”
The senior Liberal source said the government had hoped Payette would make the decision to resign rather than force a conversation with the Queen in order to seek her termination.
Messamore said the situation playing out now is unique.
“Certainly in Canada, it’s — to the best of my knowledge — unprecedented.”
With files from Global’s Mercedes Stephenson and David Akin.
More to come.