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Page February 1, 2021

Payette goes, but secrecy remains

By Ken Rubin

February 1, 2021 -  If only a non-partisan arms-length vetting committee would be around, Canadians would have had a better Governor General than Julie Payette, so they say.

Yet the secrecy around her appointment, the prime minister's role, and the vetting process involved are part of the problem.

There is no shining light on the vetting process for this job and starstruck officials from the Prime Minister's Office may have gotten suckered by a former astronaut.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can only grin and claim the right vetting was done, despite Payette's past employment and personal history.

There is a cost to such behind closed door appointments and operations to the constitutional Office of the Governor General, to the judgment of the prime minister, and to those who worked and were harassed under the head of state and under her deputy. The nearly $400,000 Quintet Consulting harassment investigation of Payette and deputy Assunta Di Lorenzo's actions is one tangible cost. So is the costs of each year paying almost $150,000 a year to Payette for her tax-paid pension- an amount indexed and bound to grow.

On top of that pension, Payette could have other pensions and severances from other workplaces – workplaces that found Payette not all that satisfactory. Plus there's the expense account that goes with former governor generals' billing the state. And will taxpayers be paying for civil suits given the widespread harassment at Rideau Hall?

The real cost too is in the lack of coverage of the Governor General's Office or the Prime Minster's Office under the access to information act or by any effective whistle-blowing legislation.

Without such accountability means, no one in the Governor General's Office could feel safe in putting in a formal workplace complaint or expecting help from the prime minister.

Past troublesome abuse of authority situations have been hidden or partly covered up. What exactly was going on in lucrative procurement contracts for producing medals at Rideau Hall? What pressures were there on behalf of SCN-Lavalin to avoid being excluded from getting large federal contracts happened beyond what Canadians heard at parliamentary hearings? Just how close was the Prime Minister or his officials to the We Charity co-founders?

Canadians cannot find out about the meetings that went on, the full briefings carried out, the exchanges between parties and more.

Recently, the prime minister's affairs was legally deemed to be outside the access to information coverage courtesy of Bill C-58. Only the government's published ministerial mandate letters, some expenses and some short briefing material are on the government periodic release list.

That the prime minister and his ministers enjoy access immunity has not sat well with many civil society groups and the information commissioner of Canada. Lest anyone think this does not exist, just look to the stonewalling and expensive firewalls established between ministers' office records and those of the public service.

Yes, there should be a more robust vetting service for governor generals. But so should there be regular accountability measures in place that allow access to that office's records which protect and keep safe the workers there.

The increasing power of the Prime Minister's Office has not gone unnoticed – it's just off limits from too much public scrutiny.

The top-down secrecy system Canada , including cabinet records that won't be released for twenty years, serves the few.

Payette leaves, but picking up the pieces means more than a little house cleaning. It requires radical transparency changes. Let's give Canadians the tools they need to monitor and improve those hiding from us.

This story was first published by The Hill Times on February 1, 2021, and is republished here with the author's and The Hill Times' permission.

Ken Rubin has championed greater transparency for over five decades and is reachable at He is an investigative public interest researcher, author and Senior Fellow at the Centre for Free Expression.