Rideau Hall hires ex-Cirque du Soleil manager as it copes with fallout from harassment claims

As it copes with claims of staff mistreatment and controversy over how its office is run, Rideau Hall is taking on a former manager from the world of live entertainment as its new chief of staff and special adviser to Governor General Julie Payette, CBC News has learned.

Multiple former employees have reported verbal harassment, abuse at GG's office

Rideau Hall has hired a chief of staff and special adviser to the Governor General who will be responsible for ensuring deadlines and quality standards are met for all documentation related to Julie Payette, according to an internal memo. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

As it copes with claims of staff mistreatment and controversy over how its office is run, Rideau Hall is taking on a former manager from the world of live entertainment as its new chief of staff and special adviser to Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, CBC News has learned.

Brigitte Carbonneau has been hired to replace a high ranking military officer who was serving as Payette's chief of staff before being recalled to the Canadian Armed Forces to help with its pandemic response.

Carbonneau has more than 25 years of experience in senior leadership at Cirque du Soleil. She has been hired to help manage Rideau Hall and to ensure "deadlines and quality standards are met for all documentation related to the Governor General," according to a memo obtained by CBC News. 

Assunta Di Lorenzo, secretary to the Governor General, sent the all-staff email Monday morning announcing the hire. The memo says Carbonneau managed the Montreal-based entertainment company in China and also was a strategic adviser to the company's president and CEO on "high profile and sensitive files." 

"She will support the Governor General in fulfilling her various responsibilities," Di Lorenzo wrote in the email.

Payette's press secretary Ashlee Smith said Rideau Hall "concluded its process to replace Lieutenant Colonel Marc-Antoine Fecteau as Chief of Staff to Her Excellency, who was recalled as a high ranking officer to help with the response of the Canadian Armed Forces to the COVID-19, and we are pleased to welcome Brigitte Carbonneau."

Rideau Hall's workplace environment is under review by the Privy Council Office. Last week, PCO launched what it calls a "thorough, independent and impartial" workplace probe and is hiring a third party to investigate claims of harassment and verbal abuse in the office of Gov. Gen. Payette.

The investigation follows a CBC News report Tuesday that included a dozen unnamed sources saying Payette has created a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall by verbally harassing employees to the point where some have been reduced to tears, have gone on leaves of absence or have left the office altogether.

Brigitte Carbonneau is from Montreal and has spent more than two decades with the Cirque du Soleil. (Facebook)

More than 16 sources with direct knowledge of the office under Payette's have now come forward to tell CBC News the Governor General has yelled at, belittled and publicly humiliated employees. They accuse her of throwing tantrums in the office and, on one occasion, tossing an employee's work aside and calling it "shit."

Sources also accuse Di Lorenzo, Payette's secretary and longtime friend, of harassing employees and calling some "lazy" and "incompetent."

A former lawyer and executive in Montreal, Di Lorenzo is supposed to keep Payette's office running smoothly. Multiple sources have said Di Lorenzo is struggling more than two years into the job — which is typically filled by a seasoned public servant — and still doesn't understand how the public service works.

The government had to create an entirely new position to assist Di Lorenzo — an associate secretary post now being filled by Marie-Geneviève Mounier, who is a veteran public servant. This is an unusual organizational structure for a Governor General's office; multiple sources have said that taxpayers are now paying two salaries for work that's usually covered by one position.

The salary for Di Lorenzo's position is more than $200,000, while the salary for Mounier's post is more than $160,000, according to the Privy Council Office's website reporting salary figures from 2017-2018.

Carbonneau is coming from the private sector and doesn't have experience working in the public service, according to her profile on LinkedIn.

Gov. Gen. Payette has not denied the claims in CBC's report. In a tweet on Thursday, Payette said she requested an independent review because she takes harassment issues very seriously. Di Lorenzo sent a memo to all staff saying the media report is "troubling to say the least." Rideau Hall scheduled a Zoom call with a government ombudsman after CBC's report was published.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau greets Assunta Di Lorenzo, secretary to Governor General Julie Payette, as they arrive at Rideau Hall to meet with Governor General Julie Payette in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Payette's press secretary defended Rideau Hall's HR process and said no formal complaints regarding harassment have been made. But multiple sources who spoke to CBC News said staff did informally voice their concerns verbally to human resources and the ombudsman, but  their complaints went nowhere.

The Privy Council Office also said it has not yet received formal harassment complaints related to Rideau Hall. It did say, however, that it's aware of an annual government survey that shows 22 per cent of respondents working for Rideau Hall claimed to have experienced harassment. Of those Rideau Hall employees who reported harassment, 74 per cent attributed it to individuals with authority over them.

"The upcoming review will allow current and previous employees to come forward to share their perspectives, with an independent third party, in a confidential environment," wrote PCO spokesperson Paul Duchesne in an email to CBC News.

The memo released this morning also notes Carbonneau will be responsible for managing special projects for the Governor General. Carbonneau is from Montreal area, like Payette and Di Lorenzo. She's also multilingual and can converse in Italian; sources say Payette and Di Lorenzo frequently converse in Italian in the office.

Although Payette's role as the Queen's representative in Canada is mostly ceremonial, the vice-regal position can be an important one in a minority government situation. Payette is bound by constitutional convention to follow the advice of the prime minister if the PM requests a dissolution or prorogation of Parliament, but she is empowered to dismiss a government that has been defeated on a vote of confidence if it refuses to step aside.

Have a news tip about Rideau Hall, email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or confidentially through CBC's SecureDrop system: https://securedrop.cbc.ca/


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered rampant allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military involving senior leaders. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/

With files from Kristen Everson

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