In recent weeks, and despite repeated statements of support, operatives of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been quietly soliciting smears against Governor General Julie Payette, Canada’s Vice Regal and the Queen’s appointed representative to Parliament, a source inside the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) tells The Chronicle.
Early this summer and at Trudeau’s behest, a PMO staffer approached a civil servant working for Payette and encouraged that staffer to file a harassment complaint against her. The PMO then took steps to publicize the complaint utilizing one of Canada’s several state-funded broadcasters, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
The staffer alleged that Payette was mean to her staff, ‘throwing tantrums’ over the quality of staff work, and accusing staffers of incompetence. Her second-in-command, Assunta Di Lorenzo, is also accused of calling the staffer in question “lazy” and “incompetent.”
The Chronicle has learned that the allegations were manufactured at Trudeau’s behest, in aim of instigating a public controversy that would allow him to recommend a new Governor General be appointed by the Queen.
The staffer names Ben Chin and Mathieu Bouchard, political operatives loyal to Trudeau, as leading the effort to convince the Privy Council to retain an outside law firm to investigate the complaint that they themselves worked to solicit.
“Rest assured that I take workplace harassment very seriously and fully support the review of our practices and the continuation of concrete actions to ensure a healthy and safe work environment for everyone, at all times and in all circumstances,” Payette told staff in a memo circulated at the time.
There is no understating the importance of the Governor General’s vast constitutional powers and authority in Canada’s parliamentary system.
“This has been a top-secret political prerogative of the Prime Minister all summer. He wants Payette gone because she has privately started to inquire about her constitutional mandate from the Queen to ensure the good governance of Her Majesty’s subjects,” the PMO staffer explains.
“The Governor General has the power to remove Trudeau from office unilaterally, and his accumulating ethics breeches give her grounds to do so,” he adds.
For Trudeau, the political maneuver is about self-preservation, he argues.
The governor general of Canada is the federal viceregal representative of the Canadian monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. Often on the advice of her Canadian prime minister, the Queen appoints a Governor General to carry out most of her constitutional and ceremonial duties for an unfixed period of time—known as serving at Her Majesty’s pleasure—though five years is the normal convention. Once in office, the governor general maintains direct contact with the Queen, wherever she may be at the time.
Payette was first commissioned to serve as Governor General in October of 2017.
Beginning in 1959, it has been tradition for the Queen to rotate between appointing anglophone and francophone vice regals—though in recent years most have been bilingual.
The office began in the 16th and 17th centuries with the Crown-appointed governors of the French colony of Canada followed by the British governors of Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries. Consequently, the office is, along with the Crown, the oldest continuous non-indigenous institution in Canada.
The present incarnation of the office emerged with Canadian Confederation and the passing of the British North America Act of 1867, which defines the role of the governor general as “carrying on the Government of Canada on behalf and in the Name of the Queen, by whatever Title he is designated”.
Although the post initially still represented the government of the United Kingdom (that is, the monarch in her British council), the office was gradually Canadianized until, with the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931 and the establishment of a separate and uniquely Canadian monarchy, the governor general became the direct personal representative of “the independently and uniquely Canadian sovereign, the monarch in his Canadian council.”
Throughout this process of gradually increasing Canadian independence, the role of governor general took on additional responsibilities. For example, the Militia Act of 1904 granted permission for the Governor General to use the title of Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian militia, while Command-in-Chief remained vested in the sovereign.
In 1947 King George VI issued letters patent allowing the viceroy to carry out almost all of the monarch’s powers on his or her behalf. As a result, the day-to-day duties of the monarch are carried out by the governor general, although, as a matter of law, the governor general is not in the same constitutional position as the sovereign.
The office itself does not independently possess any powers of the Royal Prerogative. In accordance with the Constitution Act of 1982, any constitutional amendment that affects the Crown, including the office of the Governor General, requires the unanimous consent of each provincial legislature as well as the federal parliament.
The governor general acts within the principles of parliamentary democracy and responsible government as a guarantor of continuous and stable governance and as a nonpartisan safeguard against the abuse of power.
A former Governor General, Marquess of Lorne, said of the job: “It is no easy thing to be a governor general of Canada. You must have the patience of a saint, the smile of a cherub, the generosity of an Indian prince, and the back of a camel”.
Another, the Earl of Dufferin, stated that the governor general is “a representative of all that is august, stable, and sedate in the government, the history, and the traditions of the country; incapable of partisanship, and lifted far above the atmosphere of faction; without adherents to reward or opponents to oust from office; docile to the suggestions of his Ministers, and yet securing to the people the certainty of being able to get rid of an Administration or Parliament the moment either had forfeited their confidence.”