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Opinion: Trudeau needs to take responsibility

Julie Payette, who resigned Thursday, as Canada’s Governor General, was hand-picked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Julie Payette, who resigned Thursday, as Canada’s Governor General, was hand-picked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

She resigned over allegations she created a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall, an unprecedented move for a monarch’s representative in Canada.

Trudeau chose the former astronaut to be Canada’s 29th governor general in 2017 — after disbanding a non-partisan, arm’s-length committee created by the previous Conservative government to recommend worthy nominees for viceregal posts.

Shortly after Payette took the job, it emerged that Payette had been charged with second-degree assault while living in Maryland in 2011.

She called the charge unfounded and it has since been expunged.

But as details of that emerged, so did revelations that she was involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident that same year. The case was closed without charges after a police investigation.

Both incidents raised immediate questions about how thoroughly she had been vetted for the job and accusations she wasn’t the right fit for it have dogged her ever since.

Trudeau faced questions Friday about his judgment and his government’s failure to check with Payette’s former employers at the Montreal Science Centre and the Canadian Olympic Committee, where she faced similar allegations of harassing and bullying subordinates.

The prime minister was asked by the media about his responsibility to Canadians in all of this. He stopped short of a formal apology to both Rideau Hall employees – past or present – and to Canadians.

He instead reiterated the importance of having workplaces free of harassment where people are able to do their jobs in a safe manner.

“That is why we moved forward on significant measures for parliament and for the public service and why we consider we needed to accept the resignation of Julie Payette given the concerns that were raised.”

Unfortunately for the prime minister, Canadians are taking notes that the former government’s appointed panel worked out better than Trudeau’s choice.

Sure, on some level Payette was a winning pick – an accomplished female astronaut and a scientist. But as NDP leader Jagmeet Singh put it recently Trudeau’s choice needed to be more than a marketing ploy.

“Really it comes down to Justin Trudeau, who was more interested in a flashy announcement of a governor general rather than doing the work of making sure it was the right selection,” said Singh.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole didn’t spare the prime minister either on how the hiring process was handled.

“This was a case where they did not consult. This was likely bounced around in the PMO. And there was zero verification or due diligence. And, unfortunately, we see the results,” O’Toole said.

On Monday, O’Toole also said it’s not appropriate for the former governor general to receive the customary benefits afforded to those who’ve left the post – a valid point.

In this day and age, when people with ordinary jobs are thoroughly screened and young people are asked to not post photos on social media that would later embarrass them, it’s hard to comprehend how such grave concerns were missed at the top level.

Trudeau, while saying Friday the vetting process needs to be improved, would not commit to reinstating that non-partisan, arm’s-length committee to choose her successor. This should change – especially since his pick hasn’t worked out.

The prime minister should start by taking responsibility and open up on why he wouldn’t reinstate the committee to pick nominees.

Details on a successor are expected in the coming days.

With files from the Canadian Press

Mamta Lulla is acting editor at the Red Deer Advocate.