By Ian Pattison
Julie Payette, Lynn Beyak and Derek Sloan have left the building. We shouldn’t be too quick to cheer.
Payette opted to resign this week as governor general in the face of a damning report into her conduct as an employer. People who worked at Rideau Hall had been coming out of the gleaming woodwork with complaints about being harassed and berated by the GG and her friend and secretary/consigliere Assunta Di Lorenzo, who also quit.
Then came reports of “physical contact.” So, beyond just screaming at staff, the holder of the highest office in the land was grabbing and perhaps hitting them. The Queen will not be pleased.
To her credit, I suppose, Payette chose to resign rather than forcing the prime minister to do it on orders from Buckingham Palace. But rather than simply own up, Payette just had to add that she felt she’d been denied due process, the principle that the government must respect all of the legal rights a person is entitled to under the law.
Payette seems the type to ensure she gets everything to which she is entitled.
But while we’re rid of our vice-regal narcissist, we still have the prime minister who said Payette was appointed after a “rigorous vetting process.” However, sources with knowledge of the situation said she did not undergo a thorough background check.
There was a 2011 charge of assault that was dropped so apparently it didn’t matter. Neither were telling reports from her former employees at the Montreal Science Centre and internal investigations at the Canadian Olympic Committee about staff harassment.
Our self-described feminist PM saw only a bilingual woman astronaut and thought she’d be perfect for the job. She may have ticked all of Trudeau’s boxes but did anyone ask anyone she knew whether she’d be good at this job?
Team Trudeau saw a female celebrity and somehow talked themselves out of all the signs of a person eminently ill-suited to the job. Who will he choose next, and how?
THE PM’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, was apparently equally uninterested in checking the personality of Dryden’s Lynn Beyak when he appointed her to the Senate, the house with the final word on government legislation before it goes to London for the famous signature, Elizabeth R.
The small-town girl didn’t stand out until she dared to put some other truth to the conclusion that Canada treated its Indigenous children exceedingly badly when it yanked them from their mothers’ arms on reserves and sent them off to residential schools to inculcate them in the ways of the white man.
Beyak knew residential school students who’d come out better people, and said so. When the fan was struck by the storm that followed, Northwestern Ontario aboriginals who had attended residential schools and those who knew some wrote to this newspaper to back her up.
They too were ignored. Even the word of Tomson Highway, Cree storyteller, playwright, novelist, classical pianist and Order of Canada recipient was not enough to placate the overseers of Canadian propriety.
In the same week in 2015 that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report on the legacy of Canada’s residential schools, Highway had this to say:
"All we hear is the negative stuff, nobody's interested in the positive, the joy in that school. Nine of the happiest years of my life I spent at that school . . .
"You may have heard stories from 7,000 witnesses in the process that were negative. But what you haven't heard are the 7,000 reports that were positive stories. There are many very successful people today that went to those schools and have brilliant careers and are very functional people, very happy people like myself. I have a thriving international career, and it wouldn't have happened without that school."
It’s essentially what Beyak said but because she was a white woman, and a politician at that, she was pilloried throughout the land.
Beyak then allowed supporters to post letters on her website, some of which strayed well onto the field of racism. She refused to remove them until she faced expulsion from the Senate at which time she said it was “ill-considered.”
In announcing her resignation Monday, Beyak walked back contrition to say she stands by her assessment that residential schools were good and bad, that the TRC report was not balanced, and defended “offering concerned Canadians a space to comment critically about the Indian Act. My statements and the resulting posts were never meant to offend anyone, and I continue to believe that Indigenous issues are so important to all of us that a frank and honest conversation about them is vital."
Beyak has become a living symbol of Canada’s cultural divide. She brought it on herself, but she speaks a nugget of truth that shouldn’t be overlooked.
FINALLY, we have the other Conservative who is persona non grata this week. Ontario MP Derek Sloan was always the rightist guy in the room, no more so than when he ran for the 2015 party leadership where his radical views on sexual orientation landed him in last place.
The new leader, Erin O’Toole, has been pestered to dump Sloan from caucus. His opportunity came earlier this month when it was revealed that Sloan had accepted a $131 campaign donation from a neo-Nazi by the name of Paul Fromm.
Question: Did Sloan or his campaign financial officer know Paul Fromm from Adam? Did anyone at Tory HQ which processed the donation know of him? Did a $131 donation somehow stand out? Why would it?
O’Toole is on thin ice here. Despite Sloan’s weird views on gays and, lately, the coronavirus, the Conservative caucus is fiercely divided on the wisdom of ejecting the MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington, a riding he won handily.
Sloan doesn’t fit the Ottawa mold. Neither do Beyak or Payette. One of them deserves the boot. The jury is out on the other two.
Friday’s Superior Morning show on CBC radio was a walk down memory lane for colleagues and listeners of Lisa Laco. The longtime host, now retired, listened at home as stories were shared and clips played of some of the thousands of interviews she conducted. Diagnosed with ALS she opted to send her closing remarks to be read by sidekick Mary-Jean Cormier.
One bit stood out to me. Lisa referred to “interviews that stand still at a poignant word or story.” Every journalist strives for them; a few journalists draw them out of subjects. Lisa was good at that.
I recall sitting across from Lisa on occasion as a guest of the program. She has the knack of making people feel at ease, no more so that when she interviewed me on the occasion of my own retirement after 50 years at the daily newspaper.
I miss the business and I especially miss the special, talented people who make it an integral part of the communities we live in. Thanks for 23 years of memorable mornings, Lisa.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.