Governor general steps down after consultancy's review of 'toxic' workplace

25 January 2021 3 min. read

Governor General Julie Payette has resigned after an independent consulting firm – Ottawa’s Quintet Consulting – completed a review into allegations of a “toxic” work environment at Rideau Hall.

Sources briefed on the report told CBC News that the findings were scathing, and likely made it untenable for Payette to remain in her role as governor general.

The Privy Council Office (PCO) in July announced that it would investigate the work environment at Rideau Hall after CBC News reported on claims from current and former employees that Payette had created a toxic work environment – yelling at and berating subordinates, reducing employees to tears, and prompting many to quit. Assunta Di Lorenzo, Payette’s close personal friend and second-in-command at Rideau Hall, was likewise accused of bullying staff.

The PCO in September hired Quintet – a specialist in workplace harassment and misconduct investigations – to review the claims. The independent consulting firm was awarded an $88k contract to interview current and former Rideau Hall employees and determine whether the alleged incidents met the definition of harassment or a toxic work environment.
Governor general steps down after consultancy's review of 'toxic' workplaceThe number of voluntary participants in the review grew to more than 50 people, including current and former staff as well as representatives of other government departments that worked with Rideau Hall. The higher-than-expected number of participants caused the review to extend past its scheduled completion date in late fall. The final cost of the 125-page report grew to $393,367.13, according to the PCO.

The completed report, in redacted form to protect confidentiality, is slated to be released this week, according to CTV News. However, the report’s findings were clearly negative enough that Payette opted to resign beforehand, whether at the prime minister’s suggestion or otherwise.

The former governor general had faced similar claims of workplace bullying beforehand, though the prime minister and his officials opted not to conduct checks with past employers prior to Payette's appointment in 2017, according to CBC News.

Payette resigned from her position as COO of the Montreal Science Centre in 2016 after complaints about her treatment of employees, sources allege. She received a $200,000 severance package. Payette also left her position on the Canadian Olympic Committee in 2017 after two investigations into treatment of staff, including allegations of verbal abuse, according to sources from the organization.

Payette, as a former governor general, is entitled to receive a substantial $149,484 annual pension, despite her resignation.

Trudeau in September defended Payette, relating in a Vancouver radio interview that “We have an excellent Governor General right now.”

Commenting on the news of Payette’s resignation on Friday, Trudeau said, “We are looking right now at processes that can be strengthened as we move forward, and we will have more to say on that as we make decisions.”

Payette remained defiant in her official statement on her resignation.

“While no formal complaints or official grievances were made during my tenure, which would have immediately triggered a detailed investigation as prescribed by law and the collective agreements in place, I still take these allegations very seriously,” Payette said. “Not only did I welcome a review of the work climate at the OSGG, but I have repeatedly encouraged employees to participate in the review in large numbers. We all experience things differently, but we should always strive to do better, and be attentive to one another’s perceptions.”