Column: Stars aligned to bring Governor-General perks back down to planet Earth

It’s a rare event when the stars align in the cosmos of Ottawa to create the perfect opportunity for politicians to save taxpayers some money.

That phenomenon is happening now.

Ottawa is facing a blackhole of debt. It needs to save money and that signal needs to come from the top. When a new governor-general soon takes the controls as head of state, the systems check needs to include a halt to the routine waste of money at that office.

Former governor-general Julie Payette’s turbulent three-year odyssey at Rideau Hall made systematic failures expensively clear.

Her swearing-in ceremony foreshadowed the rest of her tenure as the bill came in at $649,000. That’s 30 per cent over an already astronomical budget. The open bar and snacks cost more than $96,000.

Payette’s secretary and associate secretary also racked-up nearly $65,000 in flights, meals and other expenses during their first 18 months.

From the time Payette took office until her resignation, renovations that her office requested for her taxpayer-funded Rideau Hall mansion cost $464,395.

Documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation show that even Ottawa’s bureaucrats were worried about the out-of-control spending.

The Financial Administration Act and the Treasury Board Policy on Financial Management seek to ensure ‘public resources are used prudently and in an economical manner,’” wrote National Capital Commission Vice President Greg Kenney as a recommended message to the governor general’s office. “As a result, we require sound rationale to appropriately justify the use of tax dollars.”

Translation: a bureaucrat recommended reading the riot act to a governor-general to get her to stop wasting money.

Despite the big reno bills, Payette still refused to live in the mansion.

The taxpayer nightmare doesn’t end with Payette’s resignation because the problems are systematic.

Even though Payette has now blasted off from Rideau Hall, she’s still allowed to bill taxpayers up to $206,040 a year for office expenses thanks to a lifetime perks policy. These expenses can continue for six months after a governor-general dies.

This crazy perk came to light after the National Post reported in 2018 that former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson had claimed more than $1 million in expenses since leaving Rideau Hall in 2005.

How many Canadians receive a six-figure expense account after they stop working for a company? Anyone allowed to keep billing their former employer into the afterlife?

Since standard disclosure and access to information laws don’t cover governors-general, we don’t know what they’re spending money on. We don’t even know how much each former governor-general spends unless expenses total more than $100,000 in a year.

In addition to these six-figure expense accounts, former governors general get an annual pension of about $150,000. Payette will still collect the full payment even though she only held the role for a little more than three years.

Parliament can make changes before the next governor-general takes over. With the vast majority of Canadians working outside of government with no workplace pension, it’s clear Parliament should dial back the governor general’s pension.

On top of all these perks, the governor general’s salary is now more than $300,000 per year, according to public accounts. That’s too much. The governor-general could take a 15 per cent pay cut and still remain in the top one per cent of Canadian income earners.

It’s time to save taxpayers some money: cut the pensions and pay for governors-general, ensure all expenses are posted publicly and end post-retirement expense accounts.

The federal debt has already rocketed past the $1-trillion mark. The new governor general needs to turn the page on the disastrous Payette era. Now’s the time to bring the Queen’s representative back to Earth and cut the ridiculous waste at Rideau Hall.

Franco Terrazzano is the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

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