The Governor General’s appointment, while generally time-limited, is always ‘at pleasure,’ which means the office-holder can be let go at any time. After Julie Payette stepped aside, the prime minister quickly replaced her with acting Governor General in the person of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Richard Wagner.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on January 25, 2021.
OTTAWA—To sack or not to sack, that is the question.
Three current cases, two federal and one provincial, give us some insight into differing approaches to a firing offence.
Derek Sloan tossed
Conservative Member of Parliament Derek Sloan was tossed out by a majority vote of caucus, allegedly for accepting a donation from a white supremacist.
His toxic party status was pretty clear. Sloan has been a negative distraction to the Conservatives since his leadership bid against Erin O’Toole. O’Toole should have dumped him earlier following his racist attack on Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam, because of her Chinese roots.
Instead, according to Sloan, O’Toole defended him vigorously in front of the caucus. Sloan also claims that O’Toole won the leadership because of the second-choice support of the Sloan followers.
Sloan is gone but has encouraged his followers to remain in the party and continue to influence their policy processes.
That could spell ongoing trouble for national Conservatives as they try to reposition themselves in the moderate middle to build electoral appeal.
A party that includes membership by anti-gay, anti-choice, and pro-conversion therapy supporters will not pass muster with the Canadian public.
While the departure of Sloan has helped to close the door on social conservatives, they still have an in-house leader in the person of Leslyn Lewis, a star Tory candidate whose social views mirror those of Sloan.
Governor General Julie Payette stepped down
The second federal departure is that of Governor General Julie Payette. After reviewing an independent report on allegations of bullying by Payette and her secretary Assunta Di Lorenzo, the Privy Council concluded the claims of a toxic work environment were true.
Faced with irrefutable evidence of harassment, Payette moved quickly to step down. That was the right thing to do.
Otherwise, the government would have had no choice but to dismiss the Queen’s representative in Canada. And the Queen would not have had to personally approve any firing.
The Governor General’s appointment, while generally time-limited, is always “at pleasure,” which means the office-holder can be let go at any time. After Payette stepped aside, the prime minister quickly replaced her with acting Governor General in the person of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Richard Wagner.
Multiple news reports underscored the message that the governor-general’s alleged history of staff maltreatment was an issue in previous work environments. She departed hastily with a large severance from the Montreal Science Centre following similar allegations and left the Canadian Olympic Committee under a cloud.
Throughout the Rideau Hall investigation, the prime minister mounted a vigorous defence of his appointee. However, he had no choice but to sack her, based on the devastating report findings leaked to the media last week.
Ontario’s MPP Roman Baber dismissed
On the firing front, a third dismissal took place last week when Ontario Premier Doug Ford fired MPP Roman Baber for publishing an open letter characterizing the provincial lockdown as “deadlier than COVID.”
Baber has also been told that he cannot run for the Conservatives in the next election.
There is no doubt that Baber should have aired his grievance internally. His statement was a direct attack on the government’s use of the lockdown as a tool to limit the spread of COVID.
But this firing may actually do more harm than good by providing fuel for those who believe the current full lockdown is unsupported by science.
After Baber’s dismissal, a former Ontario chief medical officer of health penned a similar public letter, claiming “lockdown was never part of our planned pandemic response nor is it supported by strong science.”
Dr. Richard Schabas, who held the post for a decade, was also chief of staff at York Central Hospital during the SARS crisis.
He addressed the specifics of the Baber claim and also alleged that the modelling used to support the lockdown is misguided.
Schabas is not the only voice to claim the current approach is ineffective. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who usually goes out of his way to support provincial initiatives, publicly questioned the decision to include his city in the lockdown, even though its daily COVID numbers were in the single digits.
Ford is between a rock and a hard place. He is following medical advice. But not all medical advice is based on science, especially counsel on this new and emerging virus.
Had Ford simply noted his colleague’s objection and supported caucus free speech, he probably would not have provoked the public backlash caused by the firing.
Instead, this dismissal gave oxygen to the growing anti-lockdown movement.
A decision not to sack might have been smarter.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.