OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) — Julie Payette’s resignation as Governor General reflects poorly on the prime minister and his team’s ability to vet for the job, says a political scientist.
David Moscrop says until recently, the federal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had defended Payette amid allegations of workplace harassment at Rideau Hall.
“Basically, we were told, ‘There was nothing to see here,’ and subsequently, she resigned. So it reflects remarkably poorly on the government and calls into question capacity to choose these positions,” he says.
“In a country of 38 million, presumably you could find somebody who would be a safe choice. But the government decided to reach for the stars, pardon the pun, and I suspect they probably ignored some signs it wasn’t a good choice.”
Payette stepped down Thursday following the conclusion of an investigation into the workplace at Rideau hall. Several employees had come forward last year, describing the bullying they endured and the toxic environment.
Trudeau chose Payette, who is a former astronaut, for the role in 2017.
Filling the role during the pandemic
While Moscrop says the governor general role is largely symbolic, it can occasionally be important to Canada’s democracy, particularly during an election. But now Payette’s role will have to be filled while Trudeau could be under increased scrutiny, and during a pandemic.
“They have to do that during a pandemic in which there are rumours of a federal election sort of looming around the spring,” he says. “It’s going to be a profoundly difficult job.”
However, Moscrop says this is an opportunity for Trudeau and his team to make a better choice.
“It’s not only to choose someone who’s right for the job and will be around for some time, but to choose someone who can perhaps build out the office.”
He adds he would like to see an Indigenous person in the role.
The Chief Justice of Canada will fill the role on an interim basis before a replacement is recommended by Trudeau to Queen Elizabeth II.
Even former astronauts require careful vetting
Debby Carreau, the CEO and founder of the Vancouver-based Inspired HR says, even candidates for high-profile jobs, like governor general, need to be rigorously vetted.
“First of all it comes down to the interview and the hiring process and making sure that there are very thorough background checks, reference checks and a really good understanding of the person before they’re in the role. The second thing is with onboarding is making sure there’s very good training and laying out the expectations even at the most senior roles.”
She adds high-profile jobs often go to someone with a good reputation.
“I can’t speak to specific circumstances, but without a doubt, you want more than one person making sure that the process is robust,” Carreau says. “More often than not, in a high pressure, highly visibly role, people are less likely to speak out, especially when it’s someone like [Payette] held in high regard.”
More investigations have been launched involving toxic workplaces since the pandemic started, she says, mainly due to increasing stress levels and communication breakdowns, especially involving people now working from home.