Feb. 8, 2021

Governors general, living the good life beyond the grave

LIVING LIKE A QUEEN – Or at least the Queen’s representative. Most Canadians were not aware of the largesse bestowed on governors-general when they leave office, or in the most recent case, leave office in disgrace.

Taxpayers will continue paying Julie Payette a generous pension and an even heftier expense account for the rest of her life, even though she served just three years as governor general and resigned under a cloud. She’s entitled to an annual pension of nearly $150,000. And she’s entitled to claim up to $206,000 a year — for life and even six months after death — to cover expenses incurred as a result of ongoing responsibilities related to her former office.

petition has been launched to remove Payette’s pension and expense account and it’s gaining traction.

The circumstances of Payette’s departure — an independent review concluded she presided over a toxic workplace where Rideau Hall staff were yelled at, belittled and publicly humiliated.  That has raised questions about whether someone who leaves the post under a cloud should be eligible for it.

The pension is guaranteed under the Governor General’s Act, which makes no distinction between someone who completes a five-year term without incident and someone who leaves early, for whatever reason.

Take a look at the eight most recent governor-generals, and the information you can find about their activities after their term.

Julie Payette is a former astronaut, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1992, and upon her appointment as governor general, she became Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada. There is no information on her future plans. 

David Johnston was highly regarded by Canadians – he had a regal air about him. Since leaving office, Johnston joined the consulting firm Deloitte, became Chair of the Rideau Hall Foundation, became Colonel of the Regiment for the Royal Canadian Regiment, and is Commissioner of the Leaders' Debates Commission.

Michaelle Jean worked for eight years with Quebec shelters for battered women, while actively contributing to the establishment of a network of emergency shelters throughout Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. She later ventured into journalism and became a highly regarded journalist and anchor of information programs at Radio-Canada television and CBC Newsworld. 

Adrienne Clarkson could well have coined the term living high off the hog. Her ongoing expense reports still raise eyebrows. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1992, and upon her appointment as governor general in 1999, she became Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada.

Romeo Leblanc – retired early due to health reasons.

Ray Hnatyshyn’s earlier recognition set the tone for his tenure. In 1989, he received the St. Volodymyr Medal Award from the World Congress of Ukrainians, in recognition of "outstanding contributions to the cause of justice and civil liberties." Following his departure from Rideau Hall and a return to law practice in Ottawa, he received the Mount Scopus Award from the Hebrew University in 1996 for "demonstrating broad humanitarian concern throughout his career."

Jeanne Sauve - After completing her term of office as Governor General in 1990, she retired to Montréal, where she worked to forward the interests of the Jeanne Sauvé Youth Foundation. She died three years later after an extended illness.

Ed Schreyer sticks out in my memory because he was Manitoba premier before being appointed governor general. I was in the media in Winnipeg then and Schreyer was considered by the media as “one of us.” 

When his term of office ended in 1984, Schreyer donated the first five years his Governor General's pension to fund the Canadian Shield Foundation, an organization that studies the flora and fauna of the Canadian shield and provides grant monies and employment in that area. Schreyer continues to serve as its Chairman. Also, that year he was sworn-in as a Member of the Privy Council. He was subsequently appointed High Commissioner to Australia. He has since returned to Winnipeg, where he works as the national representative for Habitat for Humanity.