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All that glitters is not gold.
Nor, apparently, is it necessarily vice-regal.
That’s probably the biggest lesson learned from the sudden resignation of Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, who stepped down after a damning report surfaced about how she and her chief of staff treated employees.
The 125-page report, which has not yet been released, examined complaints of verbal harassment and public humiliation in the workplace. (There had been earlier complaints as well about disputes with her RCMP security detail, and about costs for work she required to be done.)
The position of Governor General sounds, on paper, as if it were a truly important one: it involves exercising constitutional duties on behalf of the head of state, being commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Canada’s representative at international state functions, and the list goes on.
And it was all a no-win situation anyway for the prime minister: pick the right person for the job and you don’t really get any credit. Pick the wrong person, and it’s all on you.
But in reality, it’s a largely ceremonial position that’s only occasionally important in the day-to-day mix of Canadian politics — the Governor General decides, for example, if the prime minister has lost the confidence of the House of Commons, triggering an election.
While mostly theatre, it is definitely a high-profile job. And there should be a process to properly choose and vet the person appointed to fill it.
There was such a process. Under Stephen Harper, there was a committee to review prospective candidates and offer a short list to the government. (The Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments also vetted prospective candidates for provincial lieutenant-governor positions.) The prime minister would then select a candidate to recommend to the Queen.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dispensed with that in Payette’s case, and apparently made the choice on his own.
He shouldn’t have.
If the committee had been in place, in reviewing Payette as a candidate for the position, they might have examined her exit from other positions. They might have done a thorough background check into things like Payette’s sudden departure from the Montreal Science Centre — the Globe and Mail has reported that Payette, a former Canadian astronaut, did not receive a thorough background check before her appointment.
And it was all a no-win situation anyway for the prime minister: pick the right person for the job and you don’t really get any credit. Pick the wrong person, and it’s all on you. The unexamined life truly isn’t worth hiring.
In the world of private business, even star candidates get vetted for their jobs — there have been just too many examples of hotshots whose personalities end up damaging the companies that hire them. Get a senior job in a publicly traded company? Don’t be surprised if the job offer comes with psychological testing to determine if you can fit in.
Oh, and if there could be one small teaching moment in all this: perhaps it’s that, even if you’re the Queen’s representative, you don’t get a licence to treat the staff like dirt.