Canada’s Governor General has resigned. What’s the big deal?

Published 2021-01-22 06:30
UPDATE:The report investigating former Governor General Julie Payette was made public on Jan. 27. It confirmed allegations by some staff members that she bullied them.

Former astronaut has been accused of bullying staff

For the first time in Canadian history, the person representing the Queen in Canada — otherwise known as the Governor General — has quit in a swirl of controversy.

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette announced her resignation on Thursday, following a review of complaints by employees that she bullied them.

The report has not been made public yet and no formal charges have been filed against Payette.

Still, her departure leaves a bit of a hole in Canada’s system of government, which relies on the governor general to make sure the government is functioning as it should.

Click play to find out more about what a governor general does!

What did Payette do wrong?

Last year, an independent consulting firm was hired to review reports that Payette was harassing the people who worked with her.

The review was requested following a CBC News report featuring a dozen current and former employees who spoke out about their accusations.

“She screams and humiliates staff in front of others,” one former employee told CBC News in 2020. “In no world is it OK to treat people that way.”

"When you see people in tears, something is not right," said another.

CBC reporters haven’t been allowed to read the final report yet, so it’s unclear whether there’s any proof that Payette did what she’s accused of.

However, the report came to some “disturbing” and “worrisome” conclusions, according to the head of the government department that requested the review, Dominic LeBlanc, who is president of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.

Julie Payette salutes wearing a military uniform.

As the Queen’s representative in Canada, Julie Payette is also the commander-in-chief of Canada’s military. (Image credit: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Payette’s response?

In a statement released Thursday, Payette made it clear that “no formal complaints or official grievances” have been made against her.

She also pointed out that she welcomed the review of her office and “repeatedly encouraged” employees to take part in it.

As for the accusations, Payette said “we all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better, and be attentive to one another's perceptions.”

In her statement, she did not say she was resigning because she had done anything wrong.

Instead, Payette said a new governor general should be appointed because “Canadians deserve stability in these uncertain times.”

Julie Payette works in space shuttle wearing orange space suit and helmet.

Before she became the Governor General, Payette was an astronaut. Here she is on the space shuttle Endeavor in 2009. (Image credit: NASA/Reuters)

Is this an emergency?

The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is going to step in and fill the Governor General’s role until somebody new is appointed.

That’s allowed, as long as the arrangement is only temporary.

It’s unclear how soon a new governor general will be appointed.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole released a statement on Thursday calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to set up a committee of people who aren’t tied to political parties to help find the next governor general.

A similar committee was created by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2012, but it was cancelled in 2017.

Queen Elizabeth sits at a desk.

Canada has a governor general because the country is a constitutional monarchy, which means the Queen of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth, is also Canada’s Queen. The governor general represents the Queen in Canada. (Image credit: Victoria Jones/Reuters)

Why do we need a Governor General?

A governor general mostly performs ceremonial duties.

In theory, some of their actions can have a real impact on the future of the country, although those powers are rarely used.

One example of a moment when the governor general might play a larger role is when Canada has a minority government in place, which is the case right now.

A minority government means that none of Canada’s political parties won a majority — or more than half — of the ridings or electoral districts during the 2019 election.

Instead, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party has had to co-operate with other political parties to make the government work.

If that arrangement were to fall apart, it could be up to the Governor General to decide if Trudeau can go ahead and call another election right away or if another party leader should get the chance to try and lead the country first.

Justin Trudeau stands with Julie Payette.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been asked by reporters and other federal politicians whether his team did enough to look into Payette’s background before giving her the job of Governor General. (Image credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Is Trudeau also in trouble?

In 2020, CBC News reported that Trudeau’s team didn’t check with some of Payette’s former employees before giving her the Governor General’s job.

Now, some people want to know whether his staff did enough to investigate her background before she was appointed.

Trudeau didn’t address those concerns on Thursday, but he did say every government employee “has the right to work in a safe and healthy environment.”

“We will always take this very seriously,” Trudeau said.

With files from Ashley Burke/CBC News
TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

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