Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

 

For those who may not be aware (which is probably a lot of people), the Governor General of Canada, famous former astronaut Julie Payette, just recently resigned in the wake of a scathing report on the workplace harassment perpetrated by her and her secretary. 

 

The Governor General serves as the Queen’s Representative. While it is largely a ceremonial position today, the Governor General does have constitutionally entrenched powers and is personally responsible for several necessary functions of our government, like dissolving parliament, reading the throne speech and more.

 

If all of that sounds procedural, ceremonial and incredibly boring, it’s because it is. The Governor General is a position based mostly in pomp and circumstance, not of interest to the everyday person. If you ask me, when a Governor General is performing well, most people shouldn’t know who they are. That is why Payette’s rocky tenure is particularly noteworthy. 

 

Immediately after the announcement that Payette was the Prime Minister’s choice to be the next Governor General, people were largely happy with the choice. A well regarded Canadian astronaut, an accomplished woman in STEM and a fluent speaker of both French and English, everyone assumed that she would make a perfectly safe, unassuming and non-divisive choice for the role.

 

Or so we thought.

 

Then the news started to come out. There were stories about a second-degree assault charge she had faced while living in Maryland (which was quickly dropped and expunged), which had come up in the legal proceedings relating to her divorce in 2013, though it was quickly shot down by the judge. While this was a personal issue that doesn’t necessarily speak to anyone’s ability to perform a job, it certainly did grab unwanted negative attention and it definitely should have raised red flags during the screening process. 

 

Then, about a year into her tenure, there was the news that she had attended far fewer public events than her past two predecessors and that she had also made less-than-private remarks regarding her disdain for the workload associated with the office. Again, this is something that should have been handled during vetting. How was the incoming Governor General not made aware of the workload associated with the position before taking it? Or even if she was, to have it become known that she made such remarks about it while still in office is incredibly unprofessional.

 

This past summer, information started to trickle out about abuse and harassment of staff at Rideau Hall. Surveys from staff showed a much higher rate of noted abuse, particularly from those in ‘senior management positions,’ than in any other government department. The issue with that though was that the reports of abuse were only reported to senior management at Rideau Hall, so obviously nothing was done about it.

 

After this news broke in the summer, some of Payette’s former employees from the Montreal Science Centre, which she ran from 2013 to 2016, came out publicly with similar allegations to those from the staff at Rideau Hall. I hate to beat a dead horse, but again, how did her time at the science centre not come out during vetting? For such an important role (from a procedural point of view at least) it seems that Trudeau and his team really dropped the ball when it came to her appointment.

 

Unsurprisingly, Trudeau has also refused to take responsibility for his office’s poor vetting process. Clearly, the changes they made to the process were for the worse, but they won’t commit to changing it back because the conversation has become so politicized. 

 

I could appreciate the Harper government’s Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments that was used to select the last Governor General David Johnston, a noted academic and likely someone you have never heard of which (as I said earlier), in the case of the Governor General is a good thing. 

 

The Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments was a non-partisan committee, created by Harper in 2012, which provided recommendations to the government on who to select to be the next Governor General. The committee consisted of the Canadian Secretary to the Queen, as well as a representative from Anglophone and Francophone Canada respectively. The previous representatives were the Chief Herald of Canada and a constitutional scholar, so it’s safe to say they were entirely non-partisan. This group then provided a shortlist for the Prime Minister to decide on who would be the next Governor General. There isn’t much more to say on it, except that the one time they had to fill the role, they provided a perfectly safe choice who performed well.

 

I’ll be shocked if Trudeau does reinstate the Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments. What’s more likely is that they introduce some new convoluted way of doing things, just so they can say it was their idea. Look, I’m no fan of Harper’s, but I don’t think this is a hill worth dying on. It might be news to our political parties, but sometimes the other parties can do things right, there’s no shame in acknowledging that. 

 

I’m not sure who should take on the position next, I don’t think anyone really does know, but that hasn’t stopped everyone from speculating. Most of the names are pretty out there and almost certainly would have no interest in doing it, like Celine Dion, Dan Levy or even Drake, but I really think we should get back to basics with our next Governor General.

 

To me it seems like the worst thing they can do is come into the selection process with any preconceived notions of who they want to fill the role. Because Payette checked all of the aesthetic boxes for the PMO, it made it easier for them to skim over the vetting process and rush her into position. Casting a wider net this next time may help avoid the confirmation bias and actually give us the right candidate without so many skeletons in their closet.

 

It also cannot be overemphasized, but please don’t let the PMO have the final say this time. They have shown time and again to be really in over their heads. It’s probably best they stick to crafting Trudeau’s image and steer clear of any consequential government decision making.

 

Regardless of what selection process they go with and who ultimately takes on the job next, I don’t care to talk this much about the Governor General ever again. So let’s all hope that the next pick is wholly unexciting.