National Post (National Edition)
Longtime friend contributed to Payette's downfall
OTTAWA • The former top bureaucrat at Rideau Hall corroborated the findings of the damning workplace review that led to Julie Payette’s resignation, effectively tipping the scales against the former governor general, National Post has learned.
Assunta Di Lorenzo was a longtime friend of Payette’s when the governor general hired her as head of the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, but that relationship soured in the final months of Payette’s mandate, multiple sources with knowledge of the relationship confirmed.
They were granted anonymity, as they were not authorized to discuss these matters publicly.
The Privy Council Office and Rideau Hall declined to comment, and Di Lorenzo’s lawyer did not respond to multiple emails requesting an interview or a written statement.
According to sources, Di Lorenzo played an instrumental role in Payette’s downfall by participating in the PCO’s dive into Rideau Hall’s workplace environment. Her input backed up the findings of Quintet Consulting’s workplace review.
The damning report, which was partially released two weeks ago, concluded that Rideau Hall was a “toxic workplace” with incidents of “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliation.”
It was based on 92 interviews of current employees, former employees and “knowledgeable individuals”. Any mention of who participated was redacted in the copy of the document released to reporters.
“The overwhelming majority participated confidentially to raise concerns about the work environment and/or their individual treatment,” the report reads. “Forty-three participants described the general work environment as hostile or negative or used other words to that effect. Twentysix participants used the words ‘toxic’ or ‘poisoned’ to describe the general work atmosphere at (Rideau Hall) during the current mandate.”
Sources say Di Lorenzo’s confirmation of the review’s findings was the final element of proof the PCO needed to conclude that major changes needed to happen at the head of Rideau Hall.
Within the next few weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was meeting with Payette at her office to ask her to tender her resignation, which she did on Jan. 22. Di Lorenzo also resigned from Rideau Hall around that time.
Two separate sources also say that Di Lorenzo likely submitted a trove of documents to PCO, potentially including text message exchanges, to support her confirmation of the review’s findings.
In a statement announcing her resignation, Payette admitted that tensions had arisen within Rideau Hall over the previous months and apologized for that. She also insisted “everyone has a right to a healthy and safe work environment”.
But she also implied that she did not agree with how the review and her ouster had played out.
“I am a strong believer in the principles of natural justice, due process and the rule of law, and that these principles apply to all equally,” the statement read.
Though many of these events played out in the final weeks of Payette’s tenure as governor general, sources with knowledge of the inner workings of Rideau Hall say the “wheels began falling off” the relationship between the former astronaut and her longtime friend many months earlier.
Relations became particularly tense in the fall, as Payette and her team increasingly felt that “files weren’t moving and things weren’t happening” at Rideau Hall anymore and Di Lorenzo was at least partially to blame, two sources said. On the flip side, sources say the former secretary general felt that Payette’s team was trying to push her out the door or get her to resign.
This all happened after reports from CBC News of significant workplace issues last summer prompted the review from PCO roughly three years after Payette entered the office.
But controversies surrounding Payette’s tenure as governor general appeared within the first year of her mandate. Media reports have detailed questionable spending by Rideau Hall, issues between the governor general and her security detail as well as clashes with the Prime Minister’s Office.
When the workplace review was announced last summer, Payette’s office felt the mandate was too broad in scope, which explained in part why former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache was hired as a “constitutional advisor.” He explained to Radio-Canada that his mandate was “to ensure that the independence and integrity of the institution are not adversely affected by the process created by the Privy Council.”
Payette was also frustrated that officers in her RCMP protective detail were given the opportunity to participate in the workplace review despite not being Rideau Hall employees.
At the time, she felt that their potential participation was a breach of her privacy and her relationship with the officers who are dedicated to ensuring her safety 24 hours a day.