House Call with Carol Hughes

Governor general’s resignation only raises questions

Having recently resigned from her position as Canada’s governor general, Julie Payette is at the centre of a brisk discussion on the compensation package that accompanies the position and whether she should receive any of it. The resignation came after days of speculation about the contents of a report delivered to the government related to allegations that she had created a toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. Rather than defend herself from the findings, Ms. Payette resigned in a move that might not be so surprising given the constant speculation that the job was not to her liking. Incredibly, after resigning a mere 40 months into her term, Ms. Payette is eligible for a pension of $150,000 a year as well as a travel and office budget. How suitable that compensation, given these unique circumstances, is being questioned as the way she was selected for the post.

The job of governor general is both demanding and straight forward. Apart from delivering a Throne Speech and agreeing to all elections, the position also requires significant travel within Canada and many official duties. The position pays $300,000 a year and includes a $150,000 pension plus expenses for life once upon retirement. There is also access to a lifetime expense program offering up to $206,000 a year for office and travel expenses. Prior to Ms. Payette’s resignation, the compensation package was never much of an issue. Her resignation changes that.

With a little less than three-and-a-half-years served in the position, she will only have sat for half the length of her predecessor, David Johnston. According to the government, that might not be enough to disqualify her from a pension. The deputy prime minister claims she is entitled to the pension because it is legislated, bringing back memories of another high-profile resignation from the sponsorship scandal era.

That was when former Chretien-era cabinet minister David Dingwall resigned from his position as president of the Royal Canadian Mint rather than face scrutiny over his expenses claimed in the position. When asked whether he deserved a severance package because he had resigned, he uttered the somewhat famous phrase, “I am entitled to my entitlements.” At the time, few in Canada felt the same. Now that sentiment is in play again.

Apart from compensation, the questions of how Julie Payette was even chosen and whether a better process might be advisable have surfaced. Last week a reporter challenged the government to explain their vetting process when a quick internet search revealed similar concerns from Ms. Payette’s past. At the same time there are calls for candidates to be selected from a non-partisan committee. Such an arrangement would surely help relieve the pressure on any prime minister in the event of embarrassing revelations related to a future appointee, but there is likely little interest in ceding the ability to fill this position in a partisan manner.

No matter how a replacement is chosen, the behaviour that Julie Payette is accused of is not acceptable. Society has been trying to reckon with bullying in recent years, which makes the allegations and subsequent resignation all the more damning. If the government looked past evidence pointing to the potential for abusive behaviour with this appointment, they will have to wear that. It appears they didn’t pick up on that as well as her reluctance to engage in the work the position demands. Now, given the largely symbolic nature of the position, some people are starting to question whether or not Canada even requires a governor general.