PM acknowledges difficult situations for GG Payette s staff, will reassess how successor is picked
|CTVnews 22 Jan 2021 at 14:50|
OTTAWA -- Facing the fallout from the sudden departure of Julie Payette as Canadas governor general, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on the phone with Queen Elizabeth II Friday morning, to inform her that Canada s Chief Justice Richard Wagner will oversee the roles key constitutional powers until he vets a formal replacement.
Its that vetting process for top-level appointments that the prime minister says will be looked at, to see how it can be improved to avoid future unprecedented departures.
We are looking right now at processes that can be strengthened as we move forward, and we will have more to say on that as we make decisions, Trudeau said, though he was noncommittal about what potential reforms are on the way.
Trudeau faced a series of questions from reporters on Friday during his first public appearance since the announcement of Payettes resignation on Thursday, following reports of a "damaging" workplace harassment investigation.
Addressing Canadians from his Rideau Cottage residence, the prime minister said that everyone deserves a healthy and safe work environment, including the employees who work at Rideau Hall.
Obviously the work that has been done by people working at Rideau Hall over the past years has always been exceptional. They fulfill important duties for Canadians, and as we saw were sometimes in very difficult situations. We want to thank them for their work and reassure them that we will continue to stand up for workplaces that are safe and secure everywhere in the government, he said.
Asked about the responsibility he bears, the prime minister did not apologize for his choice, and offered few specifics on next steps.
Promising a formal replacement soon, Trudeau said the situation is one he takes very seriously.
On an interim basis, Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner is serving as the administrator of the powers the governor general holds, but the prime minister has said recommendations for a formal replacement will be sent to the Queen soon.
Canadians need not be concerned about political or constitutional concerns on that level, he said. "Obviously as we move forward we will reflect carefully on the way to best select a successor.
Payettes resignation came hours after sources told CTV News that an independent review initiated by the Privy Council Office into workplace harassment allegations against her was completed and that the details of the report were damaging.
Sources have told CTV News that Trudeau asked Payette to resign during a conversation on Wednesday, given the reports findings. In the months prior, the prime minister defended the embattled Payette, saying she was an "excellent" representative for the Queen and he was not considering replacing her.
Everyone has a right to a healthy and safe work environment, at all times and under all circumstances. It appears this was not always the case at the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, Payette said in a statement on Thursday, announcing her departure. Tensions have arisen at Rideau Hall over the past few months and for that, I am sorry.
President of the Queen s Privy Council Dominic LeBlanc said that there were some very serious and concerning findings in that report with respect to the workplace, adding that a version of the report will be made public, hopefully in the next few days, but some parts need to be redacted to protect the identities of employees who spoke on a confidential basis.
He said, after reading the report, Payette decided resigning would be best for the institution for the country.
Since Payette was sworn in as governor general in 2017, following a career as an astronaut and scientist, her tenure has been plagued by controversy from the outset. Trudeau did not use the pre-existing arms-length committee used by the previous Conservative government to recommend viceregal nominees.
He was questioned about his governments failure in thoroughly looking to Payettes past employment history, which has included allegations of similar improper workplace behaviour when she worked at the Montreal Science Centre and the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Given the significance of a governor general during minority parliaments, the prime minister is facing calls from the Official Opposition to consult other parties before nominating a potential replacement.
Considering the problems with his last appointment and the minority Parliament, the Prime Minister should consult opposition parties and re-establish the Vice-Regal Appointments Committee, OToole said in a statement.
If a minority government loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons, the prime minister would then have to request Parliament be dissolved. The governor general then has the discretion whether to agree to that, and call an election, or allow another party in the House to attempt to form a government that would have the confidence of the House.
The governor general is also in charge of turning bills into law through royal assent, and some constitutional experts have raised concerns about it being problematic to have the top judge signing off on laws that may appear before them in the future.
On Friday morning, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his main concern is for the workers at Rideau Hall, and said he understands the concerns some have about Payette receiving an annuity as a former governor general.
What we should be doing is making sure we make the right decision in the first place. But anytime there is inappropriate conduct, particularly towards employees, we ve got to take a really hard look at: is that behaviour being rewarded, or is it being discouraged? And what do our actions tell the employees? In this case there are some serious concerns that are being raised by this behaviour, Singh said. Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberal government had a responsibility to protect these workers, and they failed.
Trudeau was unspecific on whether he plans to include the opposition when choosing the next governor general, and whether changes to the annual payment or expense allowances will be made in this case.
This country has very clear rules and regulations, and processes and procedures in place to follow in these cases of reporting expenses or indeed on annuities for governor generals. Those processes will be followed, but obviously, we re always open to having discussions on changes that need to be made moving forward, Trudeau said.