Who’s Afraid of Julie Payette?

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  • When Julie Payette was named Canada’s new Governor General in 2017, she already earned the ire of many conservative Canadians. At a speech to scientists at an Ottawa convention, Payette was very clear about how she felt about religion. She mocked those who believed life was a result of divine intervention rather than natural processes. She then went on to compare this to people taking a sugar pill to cure cancer. She said that so many people believed that a sugar pill would cure cancer, and then added, looking at the audience, “I am sure you know many of them.” She was referring to people who prayed about their illnesses, a clear disrespect for 76.1% of Canadians who describe themselves as religious, and a few more who have declared themselves non-religious but ‘spiritual’.

    Okay, she’s a scientist, but so was Fr. Georges Lemaitre who postulated the Big Bang Theory, Fr. Gregor Mendel who is the father of genetics, and even Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, did not discount the existence of God. Payette’s insensitivity to people of religious persuasion was defended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who rushed to her defense indicating that he was proud of her comments, as then Conservtive leader Andrew Scheer, a devout Catholic, pointed out that she was mocking people of Indigenous religions, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and people of other faiths.

    Her initial bite should have been seen as a red flag, and so were many of her decisions as Governor General. Payette appointed Assunta Di Lorenzo as her top adviser, a close friend and corporate lawyer with no prior experience in protocol or the governor general’s operations. She only attended 195 official events compared to more than 250 for the last two governors general, raising questions around her work ethic. She also broke with a tradition where governors visited all provinces and territories in their first year, as she snubbed Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Yukon. In 2020, reports that Payette had yelled at and publicly humiliated employees, reducing some to tears or prompting them to quit amid a toxic work environment, was brought into the light, which prompted The Privy Council Office to launch an independent review of allegations that she mistreated past and current employees at Rideau Hall. Amidst all this, at Payette’s personal request, taxpayers’ money was spent on designs and renovations to Rideau Hall.

    PM Trudeau is to blame for her appointment, as he did not get a non-partisan advisory committee on viceregal appointments set up by his predecessor, Stephen Harper, when he selected Payette to serve in the role. In the aftermath of Payette’s abusive management style, he didn’t apologize to workers at Rideau Hall, when asked if he owed staff who struggled under her tenure that acknowledgement, instead pivoting to describe their work over the years as ‘exceptional’ and defending her despite the scathing allegations.

    When Payette stepped down as the Queen’s representative in Canada, there were more questions than answers, as more news about her mistreatment of her employees surfaced, ones that were swept under the rug by the Liberal government. Trudeau couldn’t handle another kerfuffle in his already failing second term, so this had to be carefully downplayed; however, the stench cannot be sprayed away by any air freshener. Payette’s resignation, a first in Canadian history, and one that was done before an investigation was set to remove her, makes Canadian politics, at least in the meantime, a tad more interesting than the USA’s colourful transition of power.

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