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"A kick in the stomach."
That was the reaction of one former employee of Canada’s embattled Governor General on Wednesday after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waded into the controversy swirling around the vice-regal he appointed, Julie Payette, by praising her performance to date and stating there’s no consideration being given to replacing her.
Mr. Trudeau, while appearing on a Vancouver radio show, was asked about the complaints lodged against Ms. Payette for excessive spending and, more particularly, abusive behaviour toward staff.
"We have an excellent Governor General right now," the prime minister replied, "and I think on top of the COVID crisis, nobody’s looking at any constitutional crises." When asked more directly about whether Ms. Payette could be removed from office, he added, "That’s not something we are contemplating right now."
No wonder the aforementioned erstwhile Rideau Hall staffer experienced something resembling a body-blow reaction to Mr. Trudeau’s remarks. It’s safe to say that that person, as well as a dozen others who have complained of being belittled, berated or humiliated in public by the Governor General, would consider the vice-regal’s comportment to be something other than "excellent."
And by expressing admiration for Ms. Payette’s performance, even while pointing out that the federal government has hired a consulting firm to investigate allegations of a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall, the prime minister effectively downgraded — or perhaps outright dismissed — the validity of current and former staffers’ complaints regarding the Governor General’s behaviour.
A single, simple question leaps to the fore: why?
Mr. Trudeau is no doubt fully aware of the numerous complaints that have been lodged against the Governor General, and referred directly in the radio interview to the ongoing investigation of same. As an educated individual and — well into his second term in office — a somewhat experienced politician, he surely should know better than to insinuate himself into a conflict whose resolution must be free of meddlesome outside interference.
And yet, doing the wrong things for what he blithely perceives to be the right reasons seems very much to be Mr. Trudeau’s way. He attempted to coerce an attorney general to intervene in a criminal proceeding because he thought it would be good for Quebec’s economy (and, presumably, his own electoral fortunes in that province). He opted not to recuse himself from cabinet discussions related to the awarding of a massive government contract to a charity from which numerous members of his family had received large payments for speaking engagements, because he thought the charity was the "only" organization capable of delivering a much-needed youth-engagement service during the chaos of a pandemic.
It isn’t just that he gets it wrong; it’s that Mr. Trudeau clearly doesn’t get it. At all.
To be sure, the prime minister would suffer a loss of face if he were to speak critically about the former astronaut he hand-picked for the Governor General’s job. But seeking to avoid an embarrassment of such limited magnitude, given the much larger humiliations he has brought upon himself, seems an unlikely rationale for Mr. Trudeau’s ill-considered radio-show blurt.
More likely, it’s a continuation of the privilege-driven myopia that seems to afflict Mr. Trudeau in moments that require an understanding of how the real world works. To him, it’s undoubtedly just another trifling annoyance. But to those whose concerns are minimized by his off-the-cuff defence of the apparently troublesome Governor General, such a blissfully ignorant dismissal could very much feel like a boot to the gut.
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