Canada’s governor general resigns after report finds workplace harassment

By Leyland Cecco

Canada’s governor general has resigned after an external report found that the Queen’s representative had overseen a toxic work environment in which staff were bullied to tears.

The report, which was to be released early next week, painted a damning picture of Julie Payette’s leadership and had raised concerns among senior government figures over her ability to continue in the vice-regal role.

Picked by prime minister Justin Trudeau in 2017, Payette, 57, is the representative of Queen Elizabeth II as head of state – a largely ceremonial position. Until Thursday, however, no governor general in Canada had ever been forced to resign.

Payette’s unprecedented departure from the job follows previous allegations that she bullied staff at her official residence at Rideau Hall and on foreign trips.

“Tensions have arisen at Rideau Hall over the past few months and for that, I am sorry,” Payette said in a statement on Thursday. “For the good of the country and of our democratic institutions, I have come to the conclusion that a new governorgeneral should be appointed. Canadians deserve stability in these uncertain times.”

Last July, a number of anonymous staff told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation they were berated by Payette to the point of tears. Others said that she would call their work “shit” and order them out of her office.

Weeks later, the privy council office, which manages Canada’s federal bureaucracy and reports to the prime minister, opened an investigation, hiring an independent consulting firm.

“Harassment has no place in any professional workplace,” a spokesperson for the privy council office said in a statement at the time. “It is a public service priority to advance efforts to more effectively prevent and resolve issues of harassment.”

Payette, a former astronaut and scientist, has also faced criticism after hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent renovating her official residence, Rideau Hall, including installing a private staircase to ensure the governor general’s privacy.

Acknowledging growing controversy, Trudeau defended Payette in September and dismissed speculation that he would ask her to step down. “We have an excellent governor general right now and I think, on top of the Covid crisis, nobody’s looking at any constitutional crises,” he said. “We have put in place a process to review some of the working conditions at Rideau Hall, but that’s not something that we’re contemplating right now, going further than that.”

As part of its report, the firm spoke with dozens of current and former employees. The report was recently completed and sent to the privy council.

Payette’s top staffer and close friend Assunta Di Lorenzo has also resigned following allegations that she, too, harassed employees.

The chief justice of Canada’s supreme court, Richard Wagner, will serve as the acting governor general.