Michael Taube: Questions about the federal government hiring processes that resulted in Julie Payette and Admiral Art McDonald.
After conducting job interviews for prospective employees, private-sector employers go through a vetting process before hiring someone.
Vetting an applicant involves (hopefully) a thorough background check to ensure the information provided was accurate and complete. This includes validating previous work experience, contacting references, and perhaps doing criminal record checks and requesting credit history, among other things.
If everything matches up, the employer has potentially found a good, qualified candidate. If minor details are missing, the candidate could be asked to fill in the blanks. And if there are glaring holes, a prospective employer would know this candidate should be avoided at all costs.
Seems simple and straightforward.
But the federal government, which theoretically uses a similar vetting process, has struggled mightily in this regard as of late.
One of the worst political appointments in recent memory was Julie Payette as Canada’s governor-general. It was a disaster from start to finish.
Payette seemed uninterested in this ceremonial role. Her work ethic was suspect. She never moved into Rideau Hall. She wasted the taxpayers’ money, including on plans for a $140,000 “private staircase” that never got built. Last July, the CBC reported 16 allegations of harassment, including instances of “abusive conduct.”
The final nail in the coffin occurred in January. An independent workplace review noted that Payette and her secretary Assunta Di Lorenzo created a “toxic environment” at Rideau Hall. Forty-three staff members were interviewed, and troubling allegations of “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations” were reported.
After becoming the first governor-general to resign in disgrace, questions began to circulate:
- Had Payette’s treatment of employees when she held other roles ever been investigated or red-flagged?
- Were reports of harassment at Rideau Hall taken seriously?
- Was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made aware of these allegations?
- Most importantly, had a vetting process for Payette ever been conducted?
The Trudeau Liberals recently appointed an advisory panel to find a suitable new governor-general. It remains to be seen who this panel – co-chaired by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc (one of Trudeau’s close friends and allies) and interim clerk of the Privy Council Janice Charette – comes up with.
The federal government is also dealing with a remarkably similar situation with our military and the vetting process – or lack thereof.
Admiral Art McDonald served as chief of the defence staff for the Canadian Forces from Jan. 14 to Feb. 24. He stepped down after an allegation of sexual misconduct. An investigation is ongoing.
Ironically, Gen. Jonathan Vance, McDonald’s predecessor, also faces allegations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates. One allegation was related to an ongoing relationship. The other was related to a younger female soldier and dates back to 2012, three years before he became defence chief. Vance was appointed by the former Conservative government in July 2015.
What makes the Vance controversy eye-raising now is that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan may have known something about one allegation.
Global News’s Amanda Connolly reported on March 3 that former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne recently told a House of Commons committee he brought this information to Sajjan’s attention during a 2018 meeting.
“I did tell the minister what the allegation was,” said Walbourne. “I reached into my pocket to show him the evidence I was holding. He pushed back from the table and said, ‘No.’ The minister didn’t want to see the evidence.”
A military ombudsman traditionally has no particular political axe to grind. That’s why this looks bad on the Liberal government.
The same questions have begun:
- Was Vance’s treatment of female subordinates ever investigated or red-flagged?
- Were reports of sexual improprieties taken seriously?
- Was Sajjan made aware of one allegation and was Trudeau made aware of it?
- Most importantly, had a vetting process for Vance ever been conducted?
To paraphrase William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to vet or not to vet?
That’s the question for the Liberal government. They haven’t provided a good answer, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune may be forthcoming.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.
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