Julie Payette Forgets She’s Governor-General for a Day

By: Laura Steiner

The Governor-General serves as the Queen’s Representative in Canada.  The job is to sign legislation into law, meet with other heads of state, advise the government as needed. They grant writs for elections, decide on minority governments, which is among the most important of the job.

Governor Generals aren’t supposed to have a political opinion, or shouldn’t speak it in public.  It’s a Liberal Prime Minister now, but in two years the Governor-General might represent Andrew Scheer or Jagmeet Singh.  It’s a government appointment  where the loyalty should be to the institution not to a political party.

It appears some of that might have slipped Julie Payette’s mind this past week.  Payette, a scientist, and former astronaut was a keynote speaker at the Canadian Science Policy conference.  Her speech urged for people to take responsibility shut down, and correct misinformation on all topics including medicine, climate, and yes horoscopes.

On climate change, she asked the audience: “Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we’re still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the earth warming up or whether even the earth is warming up period.” It’s easy to believe that, because of the nature of the free exchange of ideas promoted in democracies.  How do you solve the problem if you don’t discuss your options?

Her comments on belief mark her most serious gaffe. “And we still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process, let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”  Most first Nations’ communities have their own version of the Creation myth for example.  There are Christians who believe in the supremacy of God above all else, or Muslims who believe in Allah as a guiding principle.   As Governor-General she represents everyone, and her comments make it sound like she’s mocking them.

According to Macleans Payette also took on the ‘internet, social media, and 24-hour news.  “A learned society is a better society, Payette said, but the fake news, and bogus scientific claims have to be refuted.”  She might have a point, but as Governor-General it’s not her place to say so.  Leave it to the journalists and fact-checkers to correct information.  If she wants to venture in here, why not use her position to set-up some kind of digital literacy programs?

Everyone has the right to opinions. When you rise as high as Governor-General, it’s time to shelve them.  You represent an institution, not a political party or view.  You can’t forget it,  even when you’re in a room full of friends, and former colleagues.