When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Julie Payette, an engineer and former astronaut, as Canada’s governor general in 2017, I was amazed. When I learned about Payette’s recent resignation due to a “scathing” report on her behaviour in the workplace, I was shocked.
As I read through articles reporting harassment, toxic workplace culture and employees too afraid to speak out at Rideau Hall, I could not stop wondering why and how this had continued as long as it did. After all, the role of governor general is not one to be taken lightly — it literally means being the Queen’s representative at the federal level.
Payette’s resignation raises questions about the privileges that come with the office, including the pension she will receive. According to a support program launched in 1979, former governors general receive an annual pension of almost $150,000. Additionally, they are entitled to receive $206,000 every year for the rest of their lives. The policy has not been changed to this day.
Perhaps it is time for these values to be re-evaluated.
In 2018, after an independent review of the pension policy, it was concluded that more transparency regarding expense claims was needed. It was also recommended that the expense accounts for former governors generals end after a certain number of years, rather than continue for life.
These sensible changes have not been implemented yet.
In this situation, this pension for Payette is not fair for the employees that worked in the toxic environment at Rideau Hall. Nor is it fair to ask Canadians to simply accept these allegations and the enormous pension the governor general is entitled to after their position expires.
Payette might be resigning in the face of a public scandal, but she is still receiving many of the benefits of the job. Updating the pension policy to reflect the current times and to have increased accountability is vital to ensure that future incidents like this can be handled without vastly unfair consequences.
Another problem area Payette’s resignation has brought to light is that of toxic workplaces. Cultivating safe workplace environments, whether online or in person, is more important than ever — this need is amplified during a time when people must work at a distance from colleagues.
It was not only Payette’s but also her secretary’s behaviour that employees complained about. Various news articles cited reports of individuals leaving Payette’s office in tears, and of others using the word “nightmare” to describe the work environment at Rideau Hall. Staff members that participated in the review of the governor general’s behaviour even feared that Trudeau would appoint Payette to a role, like an ambassadorship, where she would still be in charge of employees.
I expect more accountability from the federal government.
I find it shocking that after years of aggressive workplace behaviour, the public has only now come to know of it. I would expect Rideau Hall to have higher workplace standards, but Payette’s resignation is leaving a lot of unanswered questions for the current government on the validity of that claim.
This entire crisis — from the outrageous pension policy to concerns over unsafe workplaces — leaves me with one message: we can do so much better. Better can take a number of different meanings, but it is now as critical as ever to address these issues and future ones, too.
This op-ed was written by a University of Saskatchewan undergraduate student and reflects the views and opinions of the writer. If you would like to write a reply, please email email@example.com. Fiza Baloch is a third-year undergraduate student studying computer science and is the Staff Writer at The Sheaf Publishing Society.