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Report into Julie Payette’s conduct says staff reported ‘toxic’, ‘poisoned’ work atmosphere

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
WATCH: No apology from Trudeau over Payette appointment following ‘scathing’ report, resignation – Jan 22, 2021

The independent report probing Julie Payette’s conduct at Rideau Hall and the office’s atmosphere alleges the former governor general and her deputy assistant oversaw a ‘toxic’ and ‘poisoned’ work environment.

According to the report released by on Wednesday, several staff members alleged “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations,” had occurred at Rideau Hall.

“As summarized in the Report, many participants reported conduct that , if it occurred, would lead to a toxic workplace,” the report said.

Read more: Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigning amid ‘scathing’ Rideau Hall workplace review

During the review, representatives from Quintet Consulting Corporation conducted interviews with 92 current and former employees at Rideau Hall and other “knowledgeable individuals.”

The report is heavily redacted in an effort to protect participants’ privacy. In some places entire pages have been blacked out or removed.

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However, the authors ultimately concluded that “there is a serious problem” that requires the “immediate attention” of the Privy Council Office (PCO).

Click to play video 'Singh says Canadians concerned Payette’s behaviour being ‘rewarded,’ calls for Trudeau to apologize to Rideau Hall staff' Singh says Canadians concerned Payette’s behaviour being ‘rewarded,’ calls for Trudeau to apologize to Rideau Hall staff
Singh says Canadians concerned Payette’s behaviour being ‘rewarded,’ calls for Trudeau to apologize to Rideau Hall staff – Jan 25, 2021

Quintet – an independent consulting firm — was hired by the PCO in July after reports surfaced alleging incidents of workplace harassment at Rideau Hall.

The report said 26 individuals described the general work atmosphere at Rideau Hall during Payette’s tenure as “toxic” or “poisoned.”

Read more: Julie Payette should not get expense account given to former GGs: O’Toole

Forty-three participants described the general work environment as hostile, negative or other words to that effect,” the report said.

According to the report, eight participants “used the expressions climate/reign of fear/terror” and 12 participants said they were “walking on eggshells.”

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Twenty people claimed they had witnessed harassment in the workplace or referred to harassing behaviours in the office.

Participants also told the report’s authors that staff turnover was at “record levels,” and said there were “waves of departures,” including “quite a few competent, accomplished, experienced personnel.”

The report found 17 employees said they left Rideau Hall during Payette’s tenure “because of the work environment at the OSGG.”

Another 13 said they took sick leave due to the work atmosphere.

The report’s authors clarify, though, that the report does not make “findings of fact or determine whether (the) reported conduct took place.”

Click to play video 'Trudeau criticized for appointing Payette as Governor General' Trudeau criticized for appointing Payette as Governor General
Trudeau criticized for appointing Payette as Governor General – Jan 22, 2021

Payette, a former astronaut, was appointed governor general in 2017 on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recommendation. She resigned from the post on Thursday.

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In a statement released after her resignation, Payette said, “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,” the statement read.

“Tensions have arisen at Rideau Hall over the past few months and for that, I am sorry.”

“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.

Read more: Can a Governor General be forced to resign? Here’s a look at the protocol

In a statement of his own, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 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,” his statement read.

‘Next steps’

The authors of the report included a number of recommendations for “next steps and future actions” to be taken by the PCO and Rideau Hall.

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Quintet said the PCO should continue to “exercise vigilance and oversight” over Rideau Hall until the work environment is “firmly on the road to recovery.”

“The situation at (Rideau Hall) as reported by participants in this review is said to have existed for several years,” the report said.

“A general rule of thumb in the resolution of circumstances described in this report is that it can be expected to take just as much time to heal the situation as it took for it to develop.”

The consultants also recommend that “mandatory and meaningful” exit interviews be conducted by “senior personnel” with anyone who chooses to leave their job Rideau Hall until stability has been restored.

“Such exit interviews would consider especially issues relating to the health of the workplace; any necessary feedback to the OSGG to address such issues should be monitored by the PCO to ensure effective resolution,” the report said.

The authors also said current employees should be thanked for participating in the review.

Vetting process

In the days since Payette’s resignation, Trudeau has faced scrutiny for selecting Payette.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has called on the prime minister to apologize given Payette was appointed on his recommendation, and after a vetting process that failed to identify multiple red flags including past allegations of workplace bullying which were later uncovered by journalists.

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Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has said Payette should not get access to the expense account traditionally granted to those who held the post for full terms.

In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc said while there is a vetting process in place, it could be “improved.”

“It can be strengthened,” he said. “We’ve already had conversations with the officials that typically do this kind of work to ensure that anything going forward the vetting process is strengthened [and] is reinforced.”

Ultimately, LeBlanc said Payette’s resignation was “in the best interest of the institution and of the country.”

“It allows the employees of Rideau Hall to have an appropriate workplace and it allows a renewal of the leadership at this important institution,” he said.

LeBlanc said the government has “enormous respect” for the employees at Rideau Hall.

“So we want to make sure that these people have a safe, healthy and respectful workplace, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” he said.

-With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly

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