Julie Payette delivers the Speech from the Throne in the Senate chamber, at the Senate of Canada Building in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Taxpayers will continue paying Payette a generous pension and an even heftier expense account for the rest of her life, even though she served just three years as governor general and resigned under a cloud. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Julie Payette delivers the Speech from the Throne in the Senate chamber, at the Senate of Canada Building in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Taxpayers will continue paying Payette a generous pension and an even heftier expense account for the rest of her life, even though she served just three years as governor general and resigned under a cloud. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Payette resignation shines light on generous pension, expense account for former GGs

As a former governor general, she’s entitled to an annual pension of nearly $150,000

Taxpayers will continue paying Julie Payette a generous pension and an even heftier expense account for the rest of her life, even though she served just three years as governor general and resigned under a cloud.

As a former governor general, she’s entitled to an annual pension of nearly $150,000.

And she’s entitled to claim up to $206,000 a year — for life and even six months after — to cover expenses incurred as a result of ongoing responsibilities related to her former office.

The circumstances of Payette’s departure — an independent review that concluded she presided over a toxic workplace where Rideau Hall staff were yelled at, belittled and publicly humiliated — have shone a spotlight on the generous support offered to former governors general and raised questions about whether someone who leaves the post under a cloud should be eligible for it.

The pension is guaranteed under the Governor General’s Act, which makes no distinction between someone who completes a five-year term without incident and someone who leaves early, for whatever reason.

READ MORE: Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Philippe Lagassé, a Carleton University professor who specializes in the roles of Parliament, the Crown, and executive power in Westminster states, says nothing prevents Parliament from approving changes to the law. It could be amended, for instance, to specify that in future the pension will be reduced or eliminated for someone who resigns early or departs amid scandal.

But he doubts it could be changed retroactively to reduce Payette’s pension or strip it from her entirely.

“I’m not a lawyer … but I think she would have a very good case if suddenly Parliament came in and went after her personally given that she went into the job with that (pension) as a condition and, frankly, in all likelihood it probably was not an insignificant part of her decision to leave,” Lagassé says, adding such a retroactive move would set “a terrible precedent” for anyone who accepts a federal appointment.

Before making any changes to the pension entitlement, Lagassé says careful consideration should be given to the reason former governors general are given such a generous annuity in the first place.

“The pension is ultimately meant to ensure the independence of the office,” he says.

A governor general can be called upon on occasion to make tough calls about whether to call an election or allow prorogation of Parliament. The guarantee of a pension is meant to ensure such decisions aren’t influenced by concerns over how they might affect future employability.

“There shouldn’t be any kind of consideration in this person’s mind that, if they go one way or another, it might help them with their income or livelihood or comfort after holding the office,” Lagassé says.

The expense account is entirely within the purview of the government to change or scrap, as it sees fit. The support program for former governors general was launched by a cabinet decision in 1979 and has been continued, without change, to this day.

According to the 1979 cabinet minute, the program was created in acknowledgment that even after they leave office, “former governors general incur responsibilities and are asked to undertake activities” as a result of their having once held the office.

“This is particularly true in the first few years after they leave office when they are effectively in a transition period between the responsibilities of office and their return to private life.”

Nevertheless, the cabinet chose to authorize the annual expense account for life and even beyond, agreeing to reimburse expenses to the estate of a former governor general for six months after their death.

The program became controversial several years ago after the National Post reported that former governor general Adrienne Clarkson had claimed over $1 million in expenses since leaving Rideau Hall in 2005.

And that only came to light because she’d claimed more than $100,000 per year, which required disclosure as a line item in the government’s public accounts.

Clarkson defended her expenses, arguing that she takes part in dozens of public events, gives speeches and answers 500 to 700 letters each year, all related to her former role as governor general.

The controversy prompted former governor general David Johnston to disclose that he’d claimed $76,650 in the first six months after leaving Rideau Hall in 2017, mostly to set up an office and hire an executive assistant. He remains the only former governor general to itemize and publicly disclose his expenses.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered an independent review of the program, which was undertaken by consultant Alain Seguin, a former federal bureaucrat.

In his 2019 report, obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation through access-to-information legislation, Seguin said all the expense claims he reviewed were well-prepared and detailed and he “did not see any expense items that could be deemed unreasonable.”

READ MORE: Report details yelling, screaming and aggressive conduct at Rideau Hall under Payette

Still, he criticized the lack of transparency and recommended requiring itemized expense claims to be publicly reported annually.

“The major issues in this review stem from a 40-year-old program that has never been reviewed and has never been modified since its inception,” Seguin concluded.

“It has not been updated to reflect current public-sector practices and public expectations concerning reporting and accountability.”

Seguin also recommended that consideration be given to ending the expense account after “a defined number of years rather than the current for-life regime.”

Seguin delivered his report in October 2019 but the government has not acted on it.

“Work continues to determine how best to ensure that the program continues to function in an effective manner,” says Beatrice Fenelon, spokeswoman for the Privy Council Office.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Payette

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Canim Lake Band’s new housing project is nearing completion and should be ready in time for the spring. (Photo submitted)
Canim Lake Band’s new ‘tiny homes’ slated for completion this summer

Construction of four 500-sq.ft ‘tiny homes’ and one three-bedroom house began in August 2020.

Fire Chief Roger Hollander supervises the filling of the 100 Mile Outdoor Ice Rink. Hollander and the 100 Mile Fire Rescue are currently looking for new members. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile House)
100 Mile Fire Rescue seeks new recruits

Annual recruitment drive runs until the end of February.

A rainbow shining on Kelowna General Hospital on May 12, 2020 International Nurses Day. (Steve Wensley - Prime Light Media)
New COVID cases trending down in Interior Health

24 new cases reported Thursday, Feb. 25, death at Kelowna General Hospital

Sarah Carter and Melody Watkins say that understanding bullies behaviour and helping those victimized are the keys to reducing bullying. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
PSO students tackle bullying

Pink Shirt Day PSO is about making sure victims of bullying are not alone.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: Island teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

Most Read