Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc told senators this afternoon he expects the government to announce the name of Canada’s next governor general by the end of June.
Julie Payette resigned from the post four months ago after a scathing external review found she had presided over a “toxic” and “poisoned” workplace.
LeBlanc told a Senate committee this afternoon that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has again asked an advisory committee for a short list of candidates and spoke with the Clerk of the Privy Council earlier today. LeBlanc said the vetting process is ongoing.
“We’re nearly done with the work that needs to be done,” he said in French. “Even if a person has been chosen, that person of course must be once again vetted and then a swearing-in.
“I’d say, probably by Saint-Jean-Baptiste, June 24, let’s say, we’ll be able to name the new governor general … We are trying to do this sooner rather than later, I assure you.”
Payette and her second-in-command, Assunta Di Lorenzo, stepped down in the wake of a report that described episodes of “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations” at Rideau Hall. Some employees who left Rideau Hall while Payette was in office have now returned to work there, the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General told CBC News.
The third-party review was triggered by a CBC News story quoting a dozen confidential sources who claimed Payette and Di Lorenzo mistreated staff. Supreme Court Justice Richard Wagner is fulfilling the duties of the Queen’s representative to Canada until a new one is appointed.
LeBlanc was asked by Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan if a bill the Senate is studying would be signed by a new governor general or by Wagner.
Constitutionally speaking, LeBlanc said, “it’s perfectly” appropriate for Wagner to be fulfilling the duties of the governor general in the interim.
“But hopefully, this will soon come to an end both for the chief justice and for Canada,” he said.
Trudeau has been accused of failing to thoroughly vet Payette for the vice-regal role before she took office in 2017. CBC News reported that checks that might have raised red flags were not conducted with Payette’s two previous workplaces.
Payette was given severance of roughly $200,000 when she resigned from the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 following complaints about her treatment of employees, according to multiple former and current employees and board members. Payette also left the Canadian Olympic Committee following two internal investigations of her treatment of staff and claims of verbal harassment, sources there told CBC.
Trudeau said in February the vetting process will be more robust going forward. He announced in March the creation of a new advisory board, chaired by LeBlanc and the country’s top bureaucrat, interim Clerk of the Privy Council Janice Charette.
Privy Council Office spokesperson Stéphane Shank said all candidates for governor general go through a vetting process “to ensure reliability and suitability for the role.”
“This includes, but is not limited to, background checks involving a review by the RCMP (police records), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (loyalty to Canada assessment), and the Canada Revenue Agency (tax compliance-related infractions),” he said in an email. “In order to respect privacy, we do not comment on the results of these vetting processes.”
Payette has maintained from the beginning that she takes issues of workplace harassment very seriously and that everyone has the right to a healthy and safe work environment.
“Tensions have arisen at Rideau Hall over the past few months and for that, I am sorry,” Payette said in a media statement when she resigned. “We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better, and be attentive to one another’s perceptions.”
Barbara Messamore, a history professor at the University of the Fraser Valley in B.C. and a fellow of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada at the University of Toronto, called the length of the vacancy at Rideau Hall “unprecedented.”
“We have not been so long without a governor general in our recent history,” she said. “And in the past, the only times this has occurred is when the governor general died in office.”
When Georges Vanier died while in office in March 1967, it was late in his term (he had been sworn in in 1959) and successors were already being vetted. His successor, Roland Michener, was sworn in within two weeks of Vanier’s death.
When John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir, died in office in February 1940, it took until late June of that year to appoint his successor, the Earl of Athlone.
Messamore stressed the importance of getting the appointment right and said the Chief Justice can ably fill the core constitutional functions.
“As it happens, of course, because of COVID, we’re not doing any of the ceremonial, social and cultural things that are so important to the governor general’s role in normal times,” she said.