Trudeau refuses to apologize or take any responsibility for decision to nominate Julie Payette as governor general

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to apologize or acknowledge any responsibility for his decision to nominate now former Governor General Julie Payette,

who resigned Thursday

after a report found she helped create a “toxic” work environment at Rideau Hall.

During a press conference on Friday, Trudeau dodged repeated questions from reporters about his responsibility in the disastrous and unprecedented end to Payette’s tenure as Governor General, as well as the adequacy of the vetting process that failed to note similar issues she caused at previous workplaces.

“Everyone deserves a safe and secure workplace, and that includes people who work hard in the Governor General’s team. That is something that I take very seriously,” Trudeau began in French during a prepared statement.

“Yesterday, I accepted the Governor General’s resignation. This morning, I had a phone conversation with Her Majesty the Queen and I informed her that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would fulfil the duties of the Governor General on an interim basis.”

Speaking to National Post about Payette’s resignation, Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said responsibility for the unprecedented moment fell squarely on the prime minister’s shoulders.

“This is very bad for Justin Trudeau because Julie Payette was his choice. She was not vetted properly, and this once again calls his judgment into question. You cannot repair nor undo this. This is a major stain on the reputation of Justin Trudeau and it’s not good for the Liberal government at all,” Béland said.

Since her nomination in July 2017, Payette’s time as Governor General has been filled with controversy. Media reports have detailed questionable spending projects at Rideau Hall, Payette’s clashes with her security team, as well as her role in creating a “toxic” work climate for employees working for Rideau Hall.

Payette’s workplace issues also predate her time as Governor General. In August, National Post reported that her harsh management style had also created issues with staff when she ran the Montreal Science Centre until 2016.

Payette said in her resignation statement Thursday that no formal complaints or official grievances were ever filed against her during her tenure.

“There were so many red flags that were documented, including harassment allegations about Ms. Payette prior to her being named Governor General. So prime minister, where does the buck stop? Where does the responsibility lie for this?” a reporter asked Trudeau.

“Obviously, the vetting process that was in place was followed, but obviously we’re going to also look at ways we can strengthen and improve the vetting process for high-level appointments,” Trudeau responded.

In another series of questions less than 24 hours since Payette’s resignation, reporters asked the prime minister if he felt the need to apologize to Rideau Hall workers who had allegedly suffered through the toxic and verbally abusive work climate for years.

Those allegations are contained in a yet-unreleased independent report submitted to the government in recent weeks that sources say is “damning” towards Payette and her top bureaucrat, Assunta di Lorenzo.

“I think as a government, we’ve demonstrated time and time again how important it is to create workplaces that are free and safe from harassment and in which people can do their important jobs in safety and security,” Trudeau said.

“That is why we consider that we needed to accept the resignation of Julie Payette, given the concerns that were raised. The work that has been done by people working at Rideau Hall over the past years has always been exceptional … and as we saw, sometimes in very difficult situations,” the prime minister continued, stopping short of apologizing.

 Julie Payette watches as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bows to her before his speech in the Senate chamber during her installation ceremony as Gvernor General, in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017.

During his weekly Friday press conference, the prime minister said that there was a “rigorous” vetting process that led to Payette’s nomination, but did not provide any details.

He also said that his office would be assessing if there were ways to better vet the next candidate for governor general..

“We’re going to also look at ways we can strengthen and improve the vetting process for high level appointments,” Trudeau said.

Since Payette’s resignation, opposition parties have requested that the Liberals recreate a non-partisan appointments committee that would oversee future nominations. Trudeau disbanded a similar committee before he appointed Payette in 2017.

Trudeau did not comment on that request Friday, though he promised that her replacement would be announced “in due course.”

Payette’s downfall comes a little more than three years after she entered the office to great fanfare, a female astronaut and renowned scientist with a sterling resume. But her tenure was plagued by controversy after controversy, and sources with deep experience in Rideau Hall have told the Post they feel she was poorly vetted from the start for a position that requires sensitive diplomacy and attention to often arcane ceremonial detail.

– With files from Brian Platt

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques