A private member’s bill that seeks to ensure governors general do not qualify for lifetime pension and expense reimbursement programs unless they fully serve their term has been introduced by Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu.
Bill C-305, An Act to amend the Governor General’s Act, proposes that governors general be eligible for the customary pension and benefits after leaving their post only if they held office for at least five consecutive years.
“Canadians were outraged when they saw that the former governor general, Julie Payette, left the job in disgrace and was still going to be entitled to $150,000 of pension every year, as well as up to $200,000 of expenses,” Gladu said in an interview.
“This bill would ensure that in the future, any governor general that doesn’t complete their full term for any reason other than medical would not be eligible for the pension and benefits.”
Payette, who was sworn in on Oct. 2, 2017, resigned on Jan. 21 this year. Her departure occurred just a few days before the release of an independent review of complaints about the environment at Rideau Hall during her tenure, described by dozens of people as hostile or toxic.
The independent review, released by the federal government on Jan. 27, includes allegations of repeated “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments, and public humiliation” by Payette toward the staff.
Payette noted in her departure statement that there were no formal complaints or grievances made against her during her tenure. Nonetheless, she decided to resign because “Canadians deserve stability in these uncertain times,” she wrote.
Despite leaving the post early and under a cloud of controversy, Payette still qualifies for a lifetime pension of at least $149,484 per year, the National Post reported in January. She is also entitled to a lifetime expense program that gives her access to up to $206,000 per year from the budget of the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General.
Gladu said it’s crucial to protect taxpayers and make sure those selected to be governors general serve their terms and represent Canada well in order to earn the pension and perks that come with the position.
“It’s very important because the amount of pension and benefits that the governor general receives for five years of service is really out of line with what you would get in the private sector,” she said.
“So where taxpayers are concerned, they don’t mind rewarding somebody for serving in that honourable role, but when they left in disgrace, under a shadow of harassment, that the person would still be entitled, it’s just not acceptable.”
Gladu said she would expect the Bloc and possibly the NDP to support the bill, as they have indicated previously in their speeches that future governors general should be prevented from benefiting when they don’t fulfill their terms.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in January that he’d be open to amendments to the terms regarding what governors general receive upon their departure.
“I think that we should not be rewarding that type of behaviour when someone resigns in light of a report like that,” he said.
Gladu said the vetting of the next governor general is vital. In selecting Payette, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau abandoned a panel established by the Harper government in 2012 that included constitutional experts making recommendations for vice-regal appointments. Instead, Trudeau moved the selection process to his office.
“I think proper vetting with an all-party committee—like what was done when Stephen Harper had the vice-regal [appointments advisory committee] choose the Honourable David Johnston—I think that was an excellent selection, and that kind of diverse review of a candidate is important,” Gladu said.
Johnston, who served from October 2010 to September 2017, is the only former governor general who has publicly disclosed his expenses after leaving his post.
Gladu hopes Bill C-305 will prevent a situation similar to that of Payette from occurring in the future.
“It is time to fix this. This private member’s bill would do that,” she said in the House of Commons on June 2 when she introduced the bill.
With files from The Canadian Press