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Payette fiasco shows need for stronger GG vetting process: LeBlanc

OTTAWA — Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc concedes Julie Payette's resignation as governor general shows a need to strengthen the process for vetting vice-regal appointments.
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OTTAWA — Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc concedes Julie Payette's resignation as governor general shows a need to strengthen the process for vetting vice-regal appointments.

Payette resigned Thursday, about a week after the government received the damning findings of an independent investigation into allegations that she presided over a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall.

LeBlanc says the report, commissioned by the Privy Council Office which he oversees, came to "compelling" and "stark" conclusions.

He says the debacle of Payette's tenure shows that the vetting system for such appointments needs to be strengthened.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose the former astronaut to be Canada's 29th governor general in 2017 — after disbanding a non-partisan, arm's-length committee created by the previous Conservative government to recommend worthy nominees for vice-regal posts.

At his biweekly briefing today on the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudeau can expect to be pummelled with questions about his judgment and his government's failure to check with Payette's former employers at the Montreal Science Centre and the Canadian Olympic Committee, where she faced similar allegations of harassing and bullying subordinates.

"Obviously, this circumstance is far from ideal," LeBlanc said in an interview shortly after Payette's resignation.

"There always has been a process of vetting, of checks that are made when somebody is appointed to any government position. But clearly, the process can be strengthened, can be improved."

LeBlanc said discussions have already been had with those responsible for vetting, but the prime minister hasn't had time yet to reflect on the best way to choose Payette's successor. The government will have more to say on that likely next week, he said.

Trudeau's minority Liberal government could be defeated at any time and, were that to happen, it would fall to the governor general to decide whether to call an election or give Opposition Leader Erin O'Toole a chance to see if he can command the confidence of the House of Commons.

Until a successor is named, Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner will assume the duties of the governor general so there will be no constitutional vacuum. Still, LeBlanc said the government intends to move quickly to find a successor.

"We recognize also the need to be expeditious, not to have the chief justice acting in this role for a period of months. I don't think that would be appropriate."

The government does not intend to release the report just yet due to privacy issues and the promises of confidentiality made to all complainants, LeBlanc said. But it will eventually release a redacted version of the report in response to requests made under the Access to Information Act.

While he wouldn't go into details, LeBlanc said the report found Rideau Hall "was obviously an unacceptable workplace."

"Public servants who work for the government of Canada have the right to a secure, safe and healthy workplace and we are adamant ... that that standard be upheld at every institution of the government of Canada."

He said the report "painted a picture that was not consistent" with that standard.

The Senate recently agreed to pay $498,000 in compensation to nine former employees of ex-senator Don Meredith, who was accused of sexually harassing, belittling and humiliating his staff.

LeBlanc said there's been no consideration thus far — and no mention in the report — of paying compensation to Rideau Hall employees, some dozen of whom have complained anonymously to the CBC about Payette yelling at, belittling and publicly humiliating staff, reducing some to tears and prompting some to quit.

He said such questions will be handled by senior PCO officials, who are planning to talk with all employees at Rideau Hall to plan next steps forward.

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said Friday that The Queen is being kept informed and will leave the matter in the hands of the Canadian government.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021.

The Canadian Press