REALity December, 2018
Julie Payette’s Failure to Launch as Governor General
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s appointments are based on appearances rather than substance. Optics take precedent over prudent judgment. In pursuance of his obsession with “gender equality”, Trudeau appointed a number of women to his cabinet for which they were painfully ill-prepared. Bardish Chagger (Waterloo), a brand new MP elected in 2015, was appointed as Liberal House of Commons Leader. She was the first woman to occupy this strategic government position and had absolutely no “hands-on” experience for this role, which requires an understanding of the House of Commons rules as well as a grasp of the mood and inclinations of the MPs. This takes time and experience to acquire. She failed utterly to bring in new Parliamentary rules proposed by the Trudeau government. He appointed Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville) as Minister of Heritage before she had served a day in the House of Commons. She was a disaster in the role and was subsequently demoted to Minister of Tourism. Another newly elected female MP was Maryam Monsef (Peterborough – Kawartha), appointed Minister of Democratic Institutions. In this role, she tried to bring about electoral reform, with no result. In doing so, she made ludicrous statements in the House of Commons and became a laughing stock.
In keeping with bizarre female appointments, Trudeau appointed Julie Payette as Governor General in October 2017. Since her appointment, Ms. Payette, whose role is supposed to be a living symbol of the Crown which unites Canadians, has been a failure. Her responsibilities include signing decrees, providing royal assent and swearing-in cabinets, meeting the public and supporting Canadian organizations. She has made limited attempts to carry out these duties. She has given every appearance of believing that it is she who ennobles the office, rather than the other way around. For example, in her first major speech in November, 2017, she pompously ridiculed those holding religious beliefs, which views did not, according to her, measure up to her scientific knowledge and understanding of the world.
Julie Payette appeared, on paper at least, perfect for Trudeau’s purposes, in that she was a bilingual, youngish (53 years of age) astronaut and engineer. Trudeau was so excited about her appointment that he did not bother to carry out background research on her, or seek advice from the Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments or from his own Privy Council.
Since assuming her responsibilities as Governor General, Ms. Payette has carried out only one-third of the activities carried out by her immediate predecessor, David Johnston. She has refused to carry out duties, such as presenting the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Awards to recognize achievements of young people and presenting the traditional award for the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, as well as the Governor General Historical Society of Canada awards. As Governor General, Ms. Payette is the Commander in Chief of the military, and Governors/General have always attended the annual Army Run in Ottawa to raise money for the military ill and injured and their families. Not Ms. Payette. She has declined to accept daffodils from cancer patients during the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Month.
The role of Governor General requires diplomacy, tact, and the ability to connect with people. Ms. Payette, although no doubt an excellent engineer, hates small talk and disdains those who are not supposedly as intelligent as she believes herself to be.
According to authorities responsible for the Governor General, Payette routinely challenges the traditional boundaries of her role. She has pushed back on the idea that she should uncritically rubber stamp other people’s decisions. For example, although she is supposed to have only an honorary role determining those awarded the Order of Canada, she has insisted upon sitting in on these meetings. She has sometimes also blurred the line between promoting the study of science and trying to effect science policy within the government.
As an explanation for this failure to function as expected, her office stated that delays in requests were due to Ms. Payette putting everything under review, including all programming, travel and patronage.
Governor General’s Annual Salary and Benefits
An overview of benefits and personal considerations provided to Payette by the Privy Council Office just before her appointment in July 2017, indicates that she earns an index-linked annual salary of $290,600. In addition, she enjoys two official residences, meals, chauffeur-driven transport, health and life insurance plans, and receives services from housekeepers and cooks, plus laundry services. Upon leaving office, Governor General Payette will receive $143,242 (adjusted to cost of living index), every year for life. Since she is only 53 years of age, considerably younger than most of her predecessors, this is a comfortable return for her efforts, as marginal as they currently are.
Governor General Payette may eventually grow into the job, but it seems more likely that this will not be the case. Her appointment as Governor General is just another file on which Trudeau has failed to deliver.
Her appointment as Governor General, however, is not the first failure of female Governors/General. Two other previous appointments were just as disappointing. Former CBC journalists Adrienne Clarkson and Michaëlle Jean sought and obtained the appointment for their own advantage – money and prestige, but with only a cursory interest in actually serving the public (see REALity, January 2018, “The Curse of our Female Governors/General”). In contrast, the immediate former Governor General, David Johnston, handled the role superbly. Besides his impeccable credentials as a dean of law and a professor, he had a profound understanding of the parliamentary system and the many duties of a Governor General, as well as a great respect for the role. It also helped that he, unlike Ms. Payette, had a down-to-earth personality without any airs or pretensions.