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29th Governor General of Canada, former CSA Astronaut
Payette resigned on January 21, 2021, following the conclusion of a workplace review that found she had "belittled, berated and publicly humiliated Rideau Hall staff" and "created a toxic, verbally abusive workplace". The review was initiated by the Privy Council Office to investigate accusations of harassment of civil servants in the Office of the Governor General. She is the second governor general to have resigned the office, after Roméo LeBlanc (who resigned due to health issues), the first to resign due to scandal, and the first to have left a vacancy upon resignation.
During her schooling, between 1986 and 1988, Payette also worked as a systems engineer for IBM Canada's Science Engineering division. From 1988 to 1990, as a graduate student at the University of Toronto, she was involved in a high-performance computer architecture project and worked as a teaching assistant. At the beginning of 1991, Payette joined the communications and science department of the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory in Switzerland, for a one-year visiting scientist appointment. When she returned to Canada, in January 1992, she joined the Speech Research Group of Bell-Northern Research in Montreal where she was responsible for a project in telephone speech comprehension using computer voice recognition.
Payette was selected by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as one of four astronauts from a field of 5,330 applicants in June 1992. After undergoing basic training in Canada, she worked as a technical advisor for the Mobile Servicing System, an advanced robotics system and Canada's contribution to the International Space Station. In 1993, Payette established the Human-Computer Interaction Group at the Canadian Astronaut Program and served as a technical specialist on the NATO International Research Study Group on speech processing.
In preparation for a space assignment, Payette obtained her commercial pilot licence and logged 120 hours as a research operator on reduced gravity aircraft. In April 1996, Payette was certified as a one-atmosphere deep sea diving suit operator. Payette obtained her captaincy on the CT-114 Tutor military jet at CFB Moose Jaw in February 1996 and her military instrument rating in 1997. Payette has logged more than 1,300 hours of flight time, including 600 hours on high-performance jet aircraft.
Payette reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1996 to begin mission specialist training. After completing one year of training, she was assigned to work on the Mobile Servicing System. Payette completed the initial astronaut training in April 1998.
Payette served as chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007. She also worked as capsule communicator at the Mission Control Center in Houston for several years, including the return to flight mission STS-114. She was lead capsule communicator during STS-121.
Payette flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery from May 27 to June 6, 1999, as part of the crew of STS-96. During the mission, the crew performed the first manual docking of the shuttle to the International Space Station, and delivered four tons of logistics and supplies to the station. On Discovery, Payette served as a mission specialist. Her main responsibility was to operate the Canadarm robotic arm from the space station. The STS-96 mission was accomplished in 153 orbits of the Earth, traveling over six million kilometres (3,700,000 mi) in 9 days, 19 hours and 13 minutes. Payette became the first Canadian to participate in an ISS assembly mission and to board the Space Station.
Payette visited the space station again in 2009 as a mission specialist aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour during mission STS-127 from July 15 to 31, 2009, and was the flight engineer and lead robotic operator during the mission. At that time, Robert Thirsk was a member of Expedition 20 on the space station. Endeavours docking at the space station marked the first time two Canadians met in space.
For the next three years, Payette was chief operating officer of the Montreal Science Centre of the Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal. During that time, she was also a vice president of the Canada Lands Company. She abruptly left the Science Centre after a prolonged strike, as she was tired of the battles that came with her position. Prior to her departure numerous employees came forward alleging verbal abuse that created a hostile working environment, as Payette was "intimidating" and "determined to be very hands-on and in control of every aspect".
Payette has served on boards of directors, at Queen's University, Canada's Own the Podium Olympic program, Montreal Science Centre foundation, Robotique FIRST Québec, Drug Free Kids Canada, the Montreal Bach Festival, the National Bank of Canada, Développement Aéroport Saint-Hubert de Longueuil, and others. She is a member of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec and a fellow of the International Academy of Astronautics. As well, Payette is a member of the Faculty of Engineering Advisory Board of McGill University.
Governor General of Canada
Payette was announced on July 13, 2017, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recommendation to be the 29thGovernor General of Canada. She was scheduled to take office October 2, 2017, after the completion of briefings from the incumbent, David Johnston. After the announcement was made, Johnston issued a statement congratulating Payette and welcoming "a Canadian of extraordinary achievement, admired by all".
As governor general-designate, Payette had her first official meeting with Queen Elizabeth II on September 20, 2017, at Balmoral Castle, when she was also invested by Her Majesty as an extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada (CC), an extraordinary Commander of the Order of Military Merit (CMM), and a Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces (COM).
Payette was installed as governor general on October 2, 2017. Afterwards, she urged Canadians to work together on issues such as climate change, migration and poverty. "Anyone can accomplish anything and rise to the challenge as long as they are willing to work with others, to let go of the personal agenda, to reach a higher goal and to do what is right for the common good. This is exactly what I hope my mandate as the governor-general will reflect", Payette said.
Reevaluating the role of governor general
As she was completing her first year as the viceregal representative in September 2018, Payette faced some criticism about controversial comments she had made against those who believe in creationism and those who did not believe in climate change. At the Canadian Science Policy Conference the next month, she argued strongly for greater public acceptance of science, saying that too many people believe in astrology, deny climate change, and believe that "maybe taking a sugar pill will cure cancer". A Skeptical Inquirer article described her remarks as "refreshing". George Dvorsky from Gizmodo.com stated "Her words were a breath of fresh air".
In subsequent comments, Payette emphasized the importance of debate and critical thinking but admitted that she was still growing into her role and needed more time to adapt to the position. "I learned that you have to be careful about how you say things, but not what you say", she added. Some time later, she offered an additional explanation to CPAC. "I made a speech as I had as an astronaut and I'm not an astronaut any longer, I'm governor general. I represent all Canadians. I've learned those lessons."
Weeks later, she faced criticism about her work ethic, with some suggesting that she had not devoted enough time and dedication to the role of governor general and had not visited several of the provinces in her nearly 12-month tenure. The Toronto Star published specifics confirming the more numerous appearances her two predecessors had made per year. Rideau Hall spokesperson Marie-Ève Létourneau said that "The first year of every mandate is a period of learning, adjustment and adaptation from both the Governor General and Rideau Hall staff." The Governor General office's lengthy review of patronage activities, that her predecessors had automatically done by longstanding tradition, left several established non-profit groups without committed support from the office and facing organizational changes.
Later in September, the Governor General's office confirmed that Payette would not preside over the 2018 Governor General's History Awards ceremony.
On September 27, Payette acknowledged the articles that had painted an "unfavourable image of our work" in an e-mail to staff, expressed regret about the effect of the criticisms on morale, and assured them that she was "very proud of all we have achieved together to date".
During Payette's tenure, the media raised issues of questionable spending projects at Rideau Hall due to her unreasonable demands for privacy from the public and security, and her refusal to move in to Rideau Hall after renovations were complete.
Allegations of abuse
On July 21, 2020, CBC News reported that Payette had allegedly created a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall by verbally abusing employees. Two days later, spurred on by the CBC News report, the Privy Council Office formally launched an investigation into her conduct. Many former employees of the Montreal Science Center told the National Post they witnessed similarly abusive behaviour by Payette in her time at the institution, although others described her behaviour as the result of rigorously high standards. Payette said that she supported the investigation into the workplace harassment. The Privy Council Office's independent report found that Payette and her second-in-command Assunta Di Lorenzo presided over a toxic work environment, detailing "yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations."
On January 21, 2021, in what CBC News described as "an unprecedented move", Payette announced her resignation as governor general (which was effective the following day) after the completion of an independent workplace review of several claims of workplace harassment (in the form of, "belittl[ing], berat[ing] and publicly humiliat[ing]" staff), as remaining in her post "would risk inflicting serious damage on the office". The secretary to the governor-general, Assunta di Lorenzo, who is also Payette's friend, resigned the same day. Payette's commission as Governor General was formally terminated by a royal letters patent issued on January 22.Richard Wagner, the chief justice of Canada, was sworn in as administrator on January 23, 2021.
Trudeau was criticized by 15 sources interviewed by CBC for failing to vet Payette properly, as the PMO did not conduct checks with Payette's past employers (Montreal Science Centre and Canadian Olympic Committee) that could have uncovered that her style and temperament were not suited for the diplomatically sensitive and public role of Governor General.
As a result of her resignation, renewed scrutiny arose around the pension and benefits afforded to retired governors general. She is entitled to a lifetime pension of nearly $150,000 and also to claim an additional $206,000 in expenses each year. Carleton University academic Philippe Lagassé has speculated that Payette's decision to resign may have been motivated by her desire to protect her entitlements, as parliament would be unlikely to retroactively reduce them.
Payette has been married twice, first to François Brissette in the 1990s, and secondly to William Flynn, with whom she had a son in 2003, and from whom she divorced in 2015. She is fluent in French (her mother tongue) and English, and can converse in Spanish, German, Italian and Russian. Payette plays the piano and has sung with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. Currently, she sings with the Ottawa Bach Choir. Among her other hobbies are running, skiing, racquet sports, and scuba diving.
In Maryland, Payette was driving and struck and killed a pedestrian who had stepped off a curb in July 2011. The case was closed without charges in April 2012 as she was found not at fault. Payette was charged with second degree assault in Maryland, on November 24, 2011. At least one anonymously quoted source has alleged that the victim of the assault was her then-husband, Billie Flynn. Though the charges were later dropped, the couple split several weeks later and subsequently divorced. Payette has stated that charges were "unfounded" but refused to comment further on the circumstances leading to her being charged with assault. These incidents raised questions on the vetting process as she had been selected by Prime Minister Trudeau without consulting an ad hoc committee of experts, the means by which outgoing Governor General David Johnston had been selected by the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper. Once Payette was named Governor General-designate, media organizations pressed for the release of the divorce records, which Payette initially attempted to keep sealed before abandoning the bid.
Titles, styles, honours, and arms
October 2, 2017 - January 21, 2021: Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada
January 21, 2021 - present: The Right Honourable Julie Payette
Per pale Azure and Sable a wing and in the canton the Royal Crown Argent
Two lynx Sable embellished Argent, each wearing a collar set with laurel leaves Or and mullets Argent, standing on the planet Earth Azure, its atmosphere Argent, charged with the Greek letter sigma (?) Argent
PER ASPERA AD ASTRA (Through Hardship to the Stars)