Payette stepping down as governor general after blistering report on Rideau Hall work environment

Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette and her secretary, Assunta di Lorenzo, are resigning after an outside workplace review of Rideau Hall found that the pair presided over a toxic work environment.

Last year, an independent consulting firm was hired by the Privy Council Office (PCO) to review reports that Payette was responsible for workplace harassment at Rideau Hall.

Sources who were briefed on the consulting firm’s report told CBC News that its conclusions were damning.

Another source told CBC News that Payette met with President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada Dominic LeBlanc and PCO Clerk Ian Shugart to discuss the matter on Tuesday. The same source said Payette also spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last night. 

Sources have also told CBC that Secretary to the Governor General Assunta Di Lorenzo, who has also been accused of harassing employees, recently hired Marie Henein’s firm to represent her.

Henein represented ex-Vice Admiral Mark Norman, the military’s former second-in-command, during his trial for breach of trust. Federal prosecutors stayed that charge. It’s not clear if Henein or another lawyer at her firm is personally representing Di Lorenzo.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Richard Wagner will serve as the acting Governor General.

In a media statement announcing her departure, Payette apologized for what she called the “tensions” at Rideau Hall in recent months, saying that everyone has “a right to a healthy and safe work environment.”

“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 said in the statement. 

“We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better and be attentive to one another’s perceptions.”

Payette said her resignation comes at a good time because her father is in poor health and her family needs her help. 

Removing a Governor General

Governors general have resigned under pressure — and have been asked to resign by prime ministers — in Commonwealth countries in the past. In 2003, Australian Gov. Gen. Peter Hollingworth resigned after controversy erupted over the way he had handled sexual abuse claims while he was archbishop of Brisbane.

Following the resignation or removal of a governor general, the government does not need to immediately appoint a new one, said Michael Jackson of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada at Massey College.

The chief justice can act as administrator. That’s what happened for more than a month in 1952, after Lord Alexander left for England and before Vincent Massey was sworn in as his replacement.

Third party review

The Privy Council Office launched the unprecedented third-party review in July in response to a CBC News report featuring a dozen public servants and former employees confidentially claiming Payette belittled, berated and publicly humiliated Rideau Hall staff. Di Lorenzo, Payette’s longtime friend and second-in-command, is also accused of bullying staff.

Payette tweeted two days after that story aired that she was “deeply concerned about the media reports” and she “takes harassment and workplace issues very seriously … I am in full agreement and welcome the independent review.”

As of Jan. 5, Rideau Hall had spent more than $150,000 in public funds on legal representation in response to the toxic workplace allegations, and had hired a former Supreme Court justice to represent Payette and Blakes law firm for the institution itself.

That sum is larger than the original value of the federal contract that hired Quintet Consulting to conduct the review. The private firm was hired on an $88,325 contract in Sept. 2020.

The Bloc Québécois issued a statement calling for the immediate release of the Rideau Hall workplace review and said the position of Governor General has no place in a democracy.

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