Julie Payette says reports of Rideau Hall turbulence greatly exaggerated

OTTAWA — Governor General Julie Payette says she was surprised by media reports last fall saying she was at loggerheads with Rideau Hall staff and might even quit before the end of her term.

The former astronaut was reportedly having trouble adapting to her new role, her penchant for micro-management was creating dissatisfaction among her employees and she was reluctant to fulfil certain duties.

This media scrutiny, “didn’t correspond at all to reality — not at all,” Payette said.

Though she denies the accuracy of the stories about her, there has been turnover in communications personnel at Rideau Hall. And the diagrams she has drawn up on whiteboards throughout the residence, including in her office, leave no doubt that she takes a hands-on approach to the job.

The Governor General acknowledges that she has made some adjustments in recent months, in particular in terms of her communications. But she is not ready to concede that her first year was “turbulent,” as the National Post described it in September.

“It was very busy — very, very busy — but turbulent? That’s an interesting adjective,” she said. “Maybe what caught me by surprise is that I have never been in a setting where you have to talk about what you’re doing.”

She said the work is getting done, and no deadlines have been missed: “Honestly, things are going well here.”

Payette does not deny there were negotiations when it was time to give royal assent last June to Bill C-45, the law legalizing cannabis. “For sure there was a lot of back and forth,” she said, but ultimately, “there was no problem.” And any hesitations were not because, as a scientist, she had a problem with legalization, she said.

“Absolutely not. That is not at all our prerogative. There are important powers that are given to this institution of the Crown that I represent, but they are determined by very strict rules,” Payette said.

She quickly learned the role also comes with a requirement for discretion. A month after taking office in October 2017, she raised eyebrows with a speech mocking those who question climate change and who believe in creationism.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who named her to the post, did not hold it against her. In fact, he congratulated the woman who, with two space missions under her belt, embodies the importance he says he wants to place on science in decision-making.

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