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

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
BREAKING: Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Brian Combes after getting keys to his new house on April 9, 2021. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Homeless no more on Skwah First Nation after 20 years

Brian Combes gets the keys to his newly built home near Chilliwack

In 2012, police in Abbotsford placed surveillance cameras near the Dhaliwal home in the 2500 block of Bradner Road after there were two drive-by shootings in the area. Harb Dhaliwal, 31, has now been identified as the victim of a fatal shooting April 17 in Vancouver. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Abbotsford man named as victim of fatal weekend shooting in Vancouver

Harpreet Dhaliwal, 31, killed outside of Cardero’s restaurant in Coal Harbour

Joudelie King wants to get out and live life to the fullest, but there are places she can’t go because they don’t meet her accessibility needs. (submitted photo)
New online tool provides accessibility map for people with disabilities

The myCommunity BC map provides accessibility info for nearly 1,000 locations in the province

B.C. Agriculture in the Classroom is offering free school tours of The Pencil Patch learning garden in Abbotsford in April, May and June.
Agriculture in the Classroom offers free school tours at learning garden

The Pencil Patch in Abbotsford provides 15 outdoor learning stations

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
Out-of-region B.C. vacation bookings, RV ferry reservations to be refused

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Carver Ken Sheen had almost finished work on a large cowboy carving commissioned by the City of Williams Lake to replace the original overlooking the Stampede Grounds when fire broke out Friday, April 18 at his property between Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Pine River Carving Facebook photos)
Cow boss statue destined for Williams Lake Stampede Grounds goes up in flames

Carver Ken Sheen lost the statue, all his tools and his shop in the blaze

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains. (Hansard TV)
B.C. moves to protect employee pay for COVID-19 vaccination

Most won’t need to take time off work, labour minister says

Most Read