Source: Fred Chartrand/CP

While the federal government hounds workers who supposedly received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) wrongly, they are ignoring a far more egregious abuse of taxpayer money: the case of Canada’s Governor General, Julie Payette.

The appointed representative of the Queen seemingly decided her official 175-room, 9,500-square metre Rideau Hall estate just wasn’t royal enough. According to CBC News, Payette spent over $250,000 of public funds on private renovations to Rideau Hall—largely to shield her from ordinary people. 

The expenses include almost $140,000 to design an unrealized “private staircase” only she could use. Ultimately, reports note, it was discontinued after estimated costs exceeded $271,000. 

Also included in those expenses are $117,000 on a new gate and a series of doors—including one for Payette’s cat.

All of that is in addition to $2.4 million in pre-planned renovations to the building’s Monck wing, which houses most of the private quarters and state offices. While the federal government largely failed to meet its affordable housing commitments, and Indigenous housing lay in disrepair, Payette assumed no expense would be spared on her estate.

The renovations to doors and gates also notably include a “private exit” and security door, “to keep people away from Payette’s office.”

‘Payette doesn’t like maintenance workers in her line of sight’

Many of these pricey renovations were meant to spare the former National Bank board member and Canada Lands Company VP from having to look at working class people.

CBC reports Payette, “wanted to come and go without anyone seeing her.” We’re further told “Payette doesn’t like maintenance workers in her line of sight.”

While Payette demanded the renovations, she doesn’t want to look at workers doing them. The article notes, “Staff have been personally confronted by Payette over construction noises and questioned about what they were doing and why they were doing it. Some workers have been belittled and were visibly shaken afterwards.”  

It’s not the first time she’s indicated her dislike for workers. Back in 2016, when Payette was head of the Montreal Science Centre, workers went out on strike for better wages in the midst of the busy summer season. Management only gave in to the workers’ demands after Payette had resigned.

Asked to justify the expenses, Payette’s spokesperson told CBC, “In this day and age, the interest in this seems contrary to respecting the life and privacy of a person.”

No room to fire

While the Trudeau government “cracks down” on workers who accessed paltry CERB payments incorrectly—likely even the poorest of the poor—the Trudeau government hasn’t yet so much as criticized Payette. 

Asked about the case, Deputy Prime Minister Freeland could only say, “The office of the Governor General plays a very important role.”

Others noted that technically, Trudeau can’t legally fire Payette—only politely ask her to resign. 

As Mark Gollom of the CBC noted,

The Governor General is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister. An exit from this post can only occur through death or incapacitation, resignation, or if the Queen, acting on the advice of the prime minister, removes the Governor General from the role.

That the government is apparently hamstrung by legality in dealing with the Governor General is ironic, as the Governor General plays a thoroughly undemocratic role, such as proroguing Parliament to save the government from scrutiny as Justin Trudeau has just done. 

Media caught in a vice(roy)

Canada’s media has been even softer on Payette than Trudeau.

The Toronto Sundespite its mandate to portray Toronto’s social housing communities as “crime-ridden”—was quick to defend Payette. Sun columnist Joe Warmington wrote, “this incognito sullying of a Canadian icon has go[t] to stop.”

The Globe and Mail, historically linked to the Reform movement for “responsible government”, published a column titled: It’s not easy to fire a bad Governor-General and it has to be that way. It argues the scandal is small—compared to the danger of not having a representative of the Queen in Canada, with the power to dissolve governments.

Global News similarly only encouraged Payette to step down: “For the good of the country, for the good of the position itself.”

Their government and ours

While ordinary Canadians overwhelmingly view the institutions of the monarchy as outdated, Canada’s rich and their media increasingly find themselves defending them.

As noted before, Canada’s ruling class sees in the Queen and her representative a reflection of itself, during the present crisis especially: Useless, scornful and living large at taxpayer expense. And just like the Queen’s representative, they deserve to be kicked to the curb.