OTTAWA – By the time Gov. Gen. Julie Payette visits Humboldt, Sask., next month, it will have been six months since a crash involving the town's junior hockey team killed 16 people, most of whom were young players.

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OTTAWA – By the time Gov. Gen. Julie Payette visits Humboldt, Sask., next month, it will have been six months since a crash involving the town's junior hockey team killed 16 people, most of whom were young players.

Sources say Rideau Hall staff had urged the Governor General to visit the town after the tragedy, which gripped the nation, much sooner.

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes part in the annual Inspection of the Ceremonial Guard at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in August. Some in Ottawa are concerned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s staff did not fully brief Payette about the gruelling schedule governors general are expected to follow.

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes part in the annual Inspection of the Ceremonial Guard at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in August. Some in Ottawa are concerned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s staff did not fully brief Payette about the gruelling schedule governors general are expected to follow.

The belated visit is one reason criticism is mounting against Payette’s work ethic as the first year anniversary of her appointment will be marked Oct. 2.

Robert Finch, Dominion chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, worries that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s staff did not fully brief Payette about the gruelling schedule governors general are expected to follow.

"I sense a disconnect between what the job entails and the expectations they communicated."

This week, the Free Press reported that Payette’s schedule has fallen short of expectations for governors general, who have attended 500 events annually in recent years.

Multiple sources affiliated with Canada’s protocol offices and heraldry movements claim Rideau Hall staff has pushed Payette to take on more weekend activities.

Speeches and photos posted on Rideau Hall’s website reveal Payette has attended events on less than one-third as many weekend days as her predecessor David Johnston, and half as many as Michaëlle Jean during their first 12 months in office.

Manitoba institutions not ensnared in patronage hold-up

Following this week’s Free Press article, the Globe and Mail reported that St. John Ambulance, Scouts Canada and other patron groups are in a holding pattern, waiting to learn whether the Gov. Gen. Julie Payette will be their honorary head.

Following this week’s Free Press article, the Globe and Mail reported that St. John Ambulance, Scouts Canada and other patron groups are in a holding pattern, waiting to learn whether the Gov. Gen. Julie Payette will be their honorary head.

Rideau Hall said in May it’s reviewing the Governor General’s scope of activities, but it’s not clear how that’s progressing.

“With close to 250 patronages, the institution undertook to review the program, align causes with the Canadian society of today, and bring it to proportions allowing the Governor General to make more meaningful,” wrote Létourneau.

That’s forced philanthropic groups to hold off on some of their core activities because they’re unsure whether they’ll have to rewrite decades-old bylaws to remove the vice-regal from their ranks.

However, Payette’s three main patrons in Manitoba say Rideau Hall has not disrupted their operations. Executives of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair in Brandon all said their patronage is symbolic and doesn’t require the vice-regal to approve changes to their operations.

As of this week, Payette had done eight events during Saturdays and Sundays, compared with 29 for Johnston and 17 for Jean. These include giving speeches within the Ottawa region and conducting visits to other provinces and abroad.

Rideau Hall does not post the entire schedule of governors general, such as the days they review cabinet minutes, inspect military parades and sign orders-in-council.

Security staff are concerned about Payette spending time in crowded areas of Montreal that are tough to secure; Rideau Hall would not say whether that means she’s spending weekends there on personal visits. "We will not comment on the Governor General’s private engagements," spokeswoman Marie-Ève Létourneau wrote.

Finch and others have noted that Payette is the primary caregiver to her 15-year-old son.

Meanwhile, Payette has eschewed the services of a speechwriter, rehearsing some of her key points with staff but speaking without notes. The Rideau Hall website records just four written speeches from Payette, compared with 129 from Johnston and 120 from Jean, all in their first year.

Some staff felt her preference for unscripted remarks is what led to her controversial speech last November in which she derided climate-change deniers, astrology and those who believe in divine intervention.

In August, sources were perplexed when Payette did not go to Fredericton after a gunman killed two RCMP officers and two citizens. They noted Johnston had visited Moncton, N.B., in 2014 after three police officers were killed, and Payette visited a memorial after two people were killed in the Danforth shooting in Toronto in July.

Trudeau instead visited Fredericton on a tight timeframe, meeting with officers’ families and afterwards phoning the two civilians’ next-of-kin, which caused one widow to call him a "piece of s---." Finch said governors general are non-political figureheads who represent the whole country, and can sometimes avoid such clashes.

Former Rideau Hall staff say it's baffling that Payette didn’t appear at events commemorating the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April. She issued a statement instead of attending funerals, memorials or the team's first hockey game after the tragedy.

One source claimed Payette has delayed visits to the Prairie provinces after Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall wrote a letter chastising her for her comments about divine intervention. Rideau Hall said the decision to make visits is made by a senior team, but also in lockstep with lieutenants governor and premiers.

"The Governor General is expected to visit Humboldt very soon," wrote Létourneau, adding that she was in Nunavut six days after the tragedy, followed by commitments in Ottawa.

Payette went to Alberta seven months into the job. The office of Manitoba’s lieutenant governor has said Payette might visit this province in early 2019.

Some in the monarchist movement expressed dismay that Payette’s lack of visibility undermines the relevance of her position.

Finch is concerned Payette hasn’t done enough events to champion a theme for Canadians to associate with her, such as women in science, instead leaving them to dwell on unflattering news reports. He’s encouraged by the Free Press’ report that a meeting that took place last week to reboot Payette’s approach to the job.

"I think Canadians support Julie Payette and want to see her succeed, and I think at the end of the day, she’ll be more than fine," Finch said.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca