Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday September 23, 2020
Trudeau, Payette may be headed for awkward encounter over throne speech, observers say
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Julie Payette are headed for what could be an uncomfortable public moment on Wednesday, when Payette delivers the speech from the throne while her office is under a cloud of controversy due to harassment claims.
The Governor General is always the centre of attention when a throne speech is presented — but never before like this.
Earlier this month, the Privy Council Office confirmed it had hired a private company to conduct a probe into claims of a toxic work environment and verbal harassment at Rideau Hall. The probe was triggered by a CBC News story detailing reports of mistreatment.
CBC News has spoken to more than 20 sources, including current public servants and former Rideau Hall employees, who say that Payette has created a toxic workplace by yelling at, belittling and publicly humiliating staff. Payette’s second-in-command and longtime friend, Assunta Di Lorenzo, also faces claims of bullying employees.
Political scientists and constitutional experts say they expect to see Trudeau and Payette going through the motions of the throne speech ceremony while trying to downplay any suggestions of underlying tension between the PMO and Rideau Hall.
“It’s an awkward situation,” said Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada at Massey College in Toronto. “One has never seen as prolonged a criticism of a vice-regal person as in this particular case.”
Jackson said he plans to watch Payette’s delivery of the speech very closely to see if she adds any comments of her own. While the speech itself is written by the Prime Minister’s Office and outlines the government’s policy vision, governors general are the ones who actually read the speech publicly in the Senate chamber — and can also add a preamble about their own activities.
On occasion, past governors general have injected short passages into throne speeches touching on events of national importance, such as upcoming royal visits or anniversaries, Jackson said. The Privy Council Office, which receives a Governor General’s introductory text to be included in the speech, confirmed it “typically includes a few paragraphs.”
But in a departure from the norm, Payette added 11 to 12 paragraphs to the speech in 2019 — including a reference to the shared “space-time continuum.”
“We share the same planet,” Payette said during the 2019 speech. “We know that we are inextricably bound to the same space-time continuum and on board the same planetary spaceship.”
“I thought it was surprising for the Governor General to put her own imprint on what is a speech by and for the government of the day. These kinds of almost platitudes and digressions confused many people,” Jackson said.
Philippe Lagassé of Ottawa’s Carleton University researches the roles of Parliament and the Crown in Westminster states like Canada. He said Payette feels strongly about protecting her privacy and how she’s portrayed in the media — and he wouldn’t be surprised if she makes some reference to the controversy swirling around her office in Wednesday’s speech.
“I think it will be interesting to see if Her Excellency makes a point of addressing the criticisms in some direct or indirect way,” he said. (CBC)