Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Canada’s astronaut Governor General: Let’s wait for the facts

by Rob - August 10th, 2020.
Filed under: Nonfiction.

Canada is the only country in the world to have an astronaut as commander-in-chief of its armed forces.

Unfortunately, said astronaut — Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, the 29th Governor General of Canada — has come under a lot of fire the past couple of weeks, with columnists calling upon her to resign or (somehow) be ousted (the Queen is the only one who can actually do the latter, as Julie is the Vice-Regal, the Queen’s representative, in Canada).

Me, I’m like General Buck Turgidson: I hate to judge before all the facts are in. Yes, a number of staff members in the Governor General’s office have accused her of being merciless in criticizing their work (thereby creating a “toxic” workplace, they say). One newspaper opinion piece I saw yesterday said, “And what possible reason would all those staffers have for lying?”

Oh, I don’t think they’re lying. But, with all due respect to members past and present of the Canadian Federal Civil Service — and my father was one before he switched to being a university professor — it strikes me as possible that an astronaut and a professional engineer, someone who has worked with the demanding standards of excellence of both NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, a woman whose career has been surrounded by people who took Gene Krantz’s motto that “failure is not an option” to heart might, just might, find that some of our career civil servants actually don’t do very good work and, I dunno, maybe should be called on it. There really are light-years of distance between “failure is not an option” and “good enough for government work.”

As I say, I know some excellent Federal civil servants. But I suspect I’m not alone among people reading this who have had run-ins with complete incompetents in the civil service, too (my own, all too often, involve the Canada Revenue Agency).

Julie is now, among many other roles, the head of the Order of Canada, of which I’m a proud member. She didn’t induct me; her predecessor, David Johnson did. David previously was a university president — in other words, someone who just had to live with the tenured and unionized folk who putatively worked for him, regardless of their performance.

But Julie was there at that induction ceremony, learning the ropes (she’d already been designated David’s successor), and when I met her she was charming and warm and polite. (And I, like other members of the Order of Canada, get Christmas cards from her.)

Yes, yes, there are other issues. There’d been talk of spending $250,000 on renovations at Rideau Hall (renovations that were never done), but, hell’s bells, that is not a lot for renovations, especially of a historic building. The guy who has the mirror-image penthouse to mine spent $250,000 renovating his apartment.

And there are those who say that the purpose of the scuttled renovations — in part to let the Governor General enter and exit Rideau Hall without always passing through the grounds (which are open to the public) — is somehow inappropriate. Again, I don’t know. This year, we’ve already had one madman breach the grounds at Rideau Hall, looking to assassinate the Prime Minister (who was living in isolation in a cottage on the grounds, instead of at his official residence, during COVID-19).

There’s also the fact that Julie hasn’t taken up residence in Rideau Hall (although she works from there); it’s certainly unusual, but it’s hardly worthy of terminating her.

There IS an official investigation underway into the employee complaints and to the spending by her office. For my part, I’m waiting until the facts are in before I pass judgment. Until then, she has every right to the presumption of innocence and remains Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette.

(Pictured: Julie herself being inducted into the Order of Canada in 2011 by then Governor General David Johnson.)

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