Payette ‘really very proud’ of her role
OTTAWA • Governor General Julie Payette is publicly apologizing to charitable organizations for the “perception” that it has taken too long for Rideau Hall to review its priorities and determine which relationships it will continue.In her first interview since the National Post published an investigation into her first year in office, Payette also defended her approach to June’s royal assent ceremony, her office’s lighter events schedule and a major turnover in senior staff.Despite multiple sources close to Rideau Hall telling the Post that she seems unhappy in the job, Payette told CPAC’s Esther Bégin in a French-language television interview that she is “really very proud” and takes the role and its responsibilities seriously.“An office like this demands complete engagement,” she said during the half-hour interview that will air in increments on CPAC’s French public affairs program L’essentiel, starting Wednesday evening.Responsibilities including signing decrees, providing royal assent and swearing-in cabinets are “primordial” and “non-negotiable,” she said.But more discretionary responsibilities, such as which events the Governor General will attend, which awards ceremonies she will preside over and which organizations will enjoy a traditional “patronage,” remain under review almost a year after Payette took office.In the interview she promised that organizations waiting to find out whether they will get Rideau Hall’s cooperation will be able to see a freshly minted set of “criteria” and “parameters” on a new website that will go online within the next few days. New relationships will be established too, Payette said, such as with organizations promoting women in science.“With our teams we have had very, very many discussions, planning sessions and organization to assure that the greatest number of charitable organizations continue having a relationship with Rideau Hall.We have an enormous amount of esteem for them and we value that relationship,” she said. “We are sorry about the perception that maybe it took a bit of time.”Sources told the Post that Payette was questioning even some of her basic constitutional responsibilities. Payette did not deny the Post’s report that there was trouble organizing a royal assent ceremony in June.The ceremony was important to the Liberal government because Payette was to sign into law a bill legalizing recreational cannabis — a landmark commitment in its 2015 election platform. But it took phone calls between the governor general and officials all the way up to Canada’s top civil servant, Clerk of the Privy Council Office Michael Wernick, to confirm Payette’s attendance.“You can imagine that with complicated schedules, with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Clerk’s office of the government of Canada, with the office of the secretary to the governor general, we often spend a lot of time, all of the time, trying to co-ordinate and marry the schedules,” Payette said.She said that such conflicts have never prevented responsibilities from being carried out, however. Calling royal assent the “number one function of the governor general,” she said it was given “as planned, at the right time.”The Post also reported that Payette has sometimes been reluctant to simply rubber-stamp others’ decisions. She acknowledged being keenly interested in the process for inducting Canadians into the Order of Canada.“When I arrived, I wanted to understand that process, and I remain strongly interested in the nomination process,” she said. “Because we want, again with a new website, to be able to use information technology to allow more Canadians to offer nominations for people who deserve it, and to have greater agility to increase the number of decorations and honours that we can give.”Responding to a specific question about whether she wanted to have a say in the awarding of the Order of Canada, Payette said, “it would be absolutely unethical for one person to alter the list that is submitted to the advisory committee.”Payette’s public schedule appears less busy than her predecessor’s, although sources note that Gov. Gen. David Johnston was particularly active. This year the governor general declined to participate in two awards ceremonies that carry the name of her office — the Governor General’s Medals in Architecture and the Governor General’s History Awards.But she defended the slower pace. “When we are travelling, and we are often, our days are filled morning to night because we want to maximize time meeting Canadians,” Payette said. “Here at Rideau Hall we have a lot of planning to do, especially in the first year, a year of transition, a year when teams formed, and when we established our objectives.”Payette downplayed the exodus of senior staff, saying it is “very normal” for people to seek experience in other departments.
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