by Angus Reid | February 17, 2021 8:30 pm
February 18, 2021 – Julie Payette’s unprecedented resignation under a cloud from her role as governor general is prompting more than the usual, predictable questions about who should replace her.
It is also setting off a debate among Canadians about the future of a job tied directly to this nation’s status as a constitutional monarchy.
The latest data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds that as support for maintaining the monarchical status quo declines, a majority of Canadians are also inclined to reduce or eliminate the role of the governor general.
Further, Canadians are in near-unanimity over who should actually hire Payette’s successor. Nine-in-ten (91%) say that decision should be up to a parliamentary committee, rather than at the sole discretion of the prime minister.
The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.
Awareness for unprecedented resignation of Governor General
The abbreviated term of former Governor General Julie Payette was a tumultuous one. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Payette as his appointment for the position in 2017. Payette stirred debate in September 2018 after she criticized climate change denial, creationism, and other beliefs at a science conference. Some felt that the comments were breaking with tradition for a position that is mandated to encourage unity and act in a non-partisan fashion in public.
Payette later faced criticism for her comparatively inactive public schedule, her decision not to move into Rideau Hall after renovations were completed, and allegations over her management style at Rideau Hall.
In January, an independent review of conduct at Rideau Hall found current and former employees describing the work environment under Payette and her second-in-command, Assunta Di Lorenzo, as “toxic”, among other negative descriptors. The report, which drew from interviews of nearly 100 public servants, also contained accusations from staff of “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations.”
Her term culminated last month in resignation after a review by the Privy Council Office confirmed these accusations among dozens of staffers.
For a position that is significantly ceremonial, these events and allegations have caught the attention of many Canadians. Indeed, one-quarter (24%) say that they followed the news closely surrounding Payette’s resignation, while just 13 per cent had not heard anything about it (see detailed tables).
The ordeal scores a 53 on the Angus Reid Institute’s Awareness Index, which suggests it has had an above-average level of engagement from Canadians but is not an issue that has galvanized them at a time when other issues dominate.
Beyond Payette, the future of the role of governor general is evidently a source of uncertainty for a country seemingly at a crossroads over the very future of the monarchy’s role in a modern Canada.
While individual members of the royal family are never far from the headlines (be it news of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s latest pregnancy or the latest speculation over Prince Andrew’s connections to Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell)just one-in-five Canadians (21%) currently feel the royal family is just as relevant in Canada as ever:
There has also been a notable decline over the past five years in willingness to recognize Queen Elizabeth II as the official head of state for Canada. Now, half say they would continue to do so, while half disagree:
Asked another question about Canada’s place as a remaining a constitutional monarchy for generations to come, it becomes clear that the Queen’s personal popularity outranks the perceived advantage of the system by which she is Canada’s head of state. Compared to the half who say they’re happy to continue to recognize Queen Elizabeth herself, just one-in-three (32%) want Canada to remain a constitutional monarchy, long term. Notable is the lack of disagreement among generations on this question, all of which offer approximately one-third support for remaining a constitutional monarchy. This, and past Angus Reid Institute data, suggests that when Her Majesty dies, future monarchs – and the institution itself – will be less well received:
In order to remove the monarchy as a reality of Canadian life and politics, a constitutional amendment would be necessary wherein which all provinces and the federal government would have to agree to the act. This has historically been an enormous challenge, which suggests that Canada may well preserve the status quo for years to come.
As long as Her Majesty – and the institution she represents – aren’t going anywhere, neither is the role of her representative in Canada: the governor general. While Julie Payette made history as the only governor general to be forced to resign from the role, the job itself has a long and storied history.
In the middle of the 19th century, Queen Victoria appointed a representative of the sovereign to coordinate the interests of the British territories and Britain. Canada’s first governor general, Charles Monck, served six years as Governor General of British North America and Governor of the Province of Canada before becoming the nation’s first governor general in 1867 when Canada was founded as a semi-independent confederation.
As a constitutional monarchy, Canada has maintained a governor general ever since, although the position has become more ceremonial in nature. Since confederation, 29 different people have assumed the role. Until 1952 no governor general had even been a Canadian citizen.
The governor general has a number of ceremonial and participatory responsibilities in the 21st century. The mandate states that the governor general:
The Canadian public are inclined to believe that the duties of the governor general in modern Canada could be subsumed by others in government. Indeed, only one-quarter (24%) say that the position has a unique and inherent value that in its current form is irreplaceable:
Canadians have a number of mindsets about what they would with the position if it were their decision to make. For one-in-five (22%) no changes are necessary, while twice that number (43%), say they would eliminate the role entirely. Notably, a significant number would maintain the position – but either expand its purview (16%) or reduce it (19%), suggesting consensus over what to do going forward is nowhere to be found:
Across the country, only Quebec is home to majority agreement about what path to pursue. Even in this case, 63 per cent say that they would eliminate the position, while a significant minority – 37 per cent – hold other views:
Politically, past Liberal voters are least inclined to pursue and elimination of the governor general, while those who supported the Bloc Quebecois in 2019 are overwhelmingly in favour of such an action:
Among those who would reduce the role, one-in-five Canadians (19%), three-quarters (76%) say they would remove symbolic leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces from the governor general’s remit:
These data suggest there are steps that the government can take to reduce questions and criticism of the position of the governor general, the first of which is to reduce the financial compensation associated with it. Currently the Governor General receives a salary of around $300,000 per year, in addition to having use of Rideau Hall as a residence, a personal driver, and a pension of up to $150,000 per year after leaving the office. After leaving the role, the GG can then claim up to $200,000 a year in expenses related to continuing responsibilities of the position after retirement.
Canadians are near-unanimous those that fill the position are overcompensated. Two-thirds (65%) say the benefits and payments are far too generous, while one-in-five (22%) say in turn that it’s “a bit” too rich:
In contrast to Julie Payette’s ad hoc appointment in 2017, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper tasked an advisory selection committee to provide him a shortlist of candidates when he appointed her predecessors. Commentators have suggested that such a process might have exposed past complaints regarding Payette’s treatment of staff and mitigated the trouble that ensued.
For Canadians, taking the sole decision away from prime minister is a popular idea. Across all parts of the political spectrum, all age groups and other key demographics, the idea of creating a parliamentary committee to appoint the next governor general near unanimously well-received:
For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.
To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here.
To read the questionnaire, click here.
Image – Inter-American Dialogue/Flickr
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