Julie Payette, who was installed as Governor General in October, found herself the center of controversy after a Nov. 1 speech at a science convention where she insulted people who believe that “divine intervention” created mankind.
Payette, a former engineer and astronaut from Montreal, addressed the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa. There, she said incredulously: “Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately … we are 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.” She compared such believers to those who think sugar pills will cure cancer.
Payette also ridiculed belief in astrology, homeopathy, and suggested the debate on climate change was done. “Can you believe that … 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?” she asked.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna tweeted support for Payette’s comments: “Could not be prouder that @GGJuliePayette stands up for the science on climate change. We live in a good country, Canada.”
In an online column, CBC’s Robyn Urback suggested the Governor General might have crossed a line by entering a partisan debate on policy (climate change). The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson said Payette risked becoming the “Liberal Governor General.”
Reporters asked the Prime Minister about whether it was appropriate for Payette to offer such opinions. Trudeau said, “We are a government grounded in science. Canadians are people who understand the value of science and knowledge as a foundation for the future of our country.” The Prime Minister continued: “And I am extraordinarily proud of the strength and the story of our Governor General, Julie Payette, who has never hidden away her passion for science and her deep faith that knowledge, research and the truth is a foundation for any free, stable, successful society.”
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer chastised Justin Trudeau for defending the Governor General’s comments, saying his comments were “offensive to millions of Canadians” who do believe in God. “It is extremely disappointing” Trudeau “will not support Indigenous peoples, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Christians and other faith groups who believe there is truth in their religion,” said Scheer.
Ibbitson wrote in the Globe: Payette is supposed to be the Governor General “for everyone – believer and non-believer, people of science and people of faith and people of both. She must represent all, regardless of what she might think of some.”
David Mulroney, president of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, took the new Governor General to task in the pages of the Globe and Mail, condemning not only her scientism – the mistaken “the notion that the only valid means of understanding anything and everything is via science and the scientific method” – but her manners for failing to respect the significant portion of the population that believes in the transcendent.