Former governors general get perks like expense accounts. Should Julie Payette?

Click to play video: 'Trudeau mum on whether Payette will keep expense account'
Trudeau mum on whether Payette will keep expense account
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered little clarity when pressed by Global News on whether Julie Payette will get to keep the annuity and expense account granted to former governors general, despite her resigning before completing her term amid a cloud of bullying accusations – Jan 22, 2021

Most governors general occupy Rideau Hall for a standard term of five years, unless asked to stay on.

Never before has one resigned amid a cloud of scandal as is the case with the most recent occupant of the vice-regal office, Julie Payette.

Still, it appears Payette could be on track to receive the same lifelong perks as those who served out full terms without becoming the focus of a “scathing” workplace investigation amid accusations of bullying.

The question now is: should she?

“With the resignation of Julie Payette, now is the time for this government to ensure that taxpayers are not on the hook for the expense accounts of former governors general,” Aaron Wudrick, federal director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said in a statement.

Wudrick pointed out it’s been two years since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to review the program that allows former governors general to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses after they leave office, with virtually no transparency on how that money gets spent.

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“Nothing has happened since. It’s time to save taxpayers money by scrapping this outrageously wasteful program.”

According to the Library of Parliament, Payette made an annual salary of roughly $290,000 but was on track to bring home about $308,000 in the current fiscal year, which ends in March.

The Governor General Act also states that former governors general are entitled to an annuity for the rest of their lives, which in Payette’s case is believed to be the ballpark of $150,000.

Philippe Lagassé, an associate professor at Carleton University specializing in parliamentary affairs and the Westminster system of government, said changing that annuity would likely be difficult.

“The wording of the statute doesn’t provide for exceptions for bad behaviour or resignation,” he said.

“If Parliament so chooses, it can perhaps change it. But I suspect that it would give rise to a legal challenge if they went back and tried to retroactively remove certain benefits from it.”

According to a spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary for the Governor General, former occupants of the vice-regal office also get access to an expense program that is separate from the annuity granted under the Governor General Act.

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And while the rough scope of that program is clear, the finer details of it are not.

Rob McKinnon, spokesperson for the office, said the expense program has been around since 1979.

That’s when the federal Treasury Board permitted the government to “provide administrative support to former governors general for their activities related to their former role,” he said.

“Once governors general end their mandate, there remains an expectation that they continue to serve as Canadian leading figures.”

“This expectation of continued public life means that they are regularly solicited ‎to support various causes, take part in important events and undertake official activities. Administrative support is necessary to coordinate the public engagements and continued work expected by Canadians.”

The expenses program covers “reasonable and justified administrative expenses” through the budget allotted to the Office of the Secretary of the Governor General, which McKinnon said typically range from “administrative support, office space and furniture, to professional services, travel and accommodation.”

Receipts and invoices must be provided.

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But the specifics of what can be claimed and whether there are any limits on how much can be claimed are unclear, according to previous reporting from the National Post in 2018 that detailed how former governor general Adrienne Clarkson racked up at least $1.1 million in expenses after leaving office.

That information only came to light because several of Clarkson’s claims exceeded $100,000, which triggered federal disclosure rules that saw those claims added into public accounting records.

Trudeau pledged at the time to review the expense program but in the two years since, there have been no apparent changes to the rules despite his government running on a promise of openness and transparency when first elected in 2015.

Global News asked the prime minister whether he plans to change any of the rules around the expense program in light of the repeated questions Payette has faced over recent years for contentious expense claims related to renovations at Rideau Hall, as well as the damning conclusions of the report.

He gave no clear answer.

“This country has very clear rules and regulations and processes and procedures in place to follow in these cases of reporting expenses or indeed on annuities for governor generals,” Trudeau said.

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“Those processes will be followed but obviously we’re always open to having discussions on changes that need to be made moving forward.”

Click to play video: 'No apology from Trudeau over Payette appointment following ‘scathing’ report, resignation'
No apology from Trudeau over Payette appointment following ‘scathing’ report, resignation

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