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Monday, June 5th 2017 - Committee of the Whole - Commissioner of Official Languages Madeleine Meilleur

Senator Poirier: Ms. Meilleur, I just want to make it clear that I am not questioning your background or your skills. I am questioning the appointment process.

Since your appointment, the francophone community has been very divided, especially in Acadia. In fact, the Société des Acadiens du Nouveau-Brunswick, or SANB, has called for a new selection process, given that your appointment is politicizing a position that should serve as a watchdog for the Francophonie. Today we learned that the SANB will file an application for judicial review in Federal Court.

Knowing that the confidence of several francophone and anglophone organizations has been undermined, how do you think you can reassure them?

Ms. Meilleur: Thank you, senator, for your question. Throughout my career, I have always worked for the Francophonie and the advancement of French language services in Ontario. The position was open, and I applied. A very rigorous process had already been established. I made it through each step of the process, and I could expand on that.

I was very pleased to have been selected, and of course, like you, I read all the comments and concerns that are being expressed about my career in politics. Yes, I worked in politics for 25 years, including 13 years in active, partisan politics. However, whenever I was working for the francophone cause, even when I was a member of the government, I was still the watchdog for Franco-Ontarians. I always fought on their behalf; I challenged and tried to convince members of my own political party. I was the only francophone in cabinet.

I could talk to you about the Montfort Hospital, for example. I am a "graduate" of the Montfort Hospital. I fought tooth and nail for the Montfort Hospital. When I was a minister, I made sure that the government funded the hospital's expansion, even though the Montfort was not on the list of hospitals earmarked to receive funding for expansion. The Montfort was even declared a teaching hospital. I wanted that too, because the Montfort Hospital did not have that status prior to that. Now, health care professionals are trained there in French.

I also created the position of French Languages Services Commissioner.

You know as well as I do that not everyone in a caucus shares the same opinions and not everyone is a francophile. I submitted arguments and I was able to convince my colleagues of the merits of creating that position.

What is more, TFO used to be part of the Government of Ontario's educational television station, TVO. I asked and I managed to convince my colleagues to make TFO independent because it seemed to us that it was being overshadowed as a result of its connection to TVO. Now that TFO is independent, you have seen how well known it has become across Canada and internationally. I could give you many examples that show that, even though I was a member of a political party, I have always put francophones and Franco-Ontarians ahead of my political beliefs and affiliations.

Senator Poirier: You indicated that your goal was to become a senator, but the Liberal government felt you were too partisan to be appointed to the upper chamber. However, now you are being considered for an extremely important position that requires impartiality, that of an officer of Parliament.

Can you explain the difference between the position of senator and that of an officer of Parliament? How do you expect to reconcile over 13 years of political partisanship with the position of officer of Parliament?

Ms. Meilleur: I would like to point out that I am not the one who made the rules governing the position of senator. Yes, at one point, I thought about joining the Senate given its new structures and appointment process, but I was told that no one who had just left a job as a politician could be appointed to the Senate.

Later, when the Official Languages Commissioner, Graham Fraser, told me that his job was soon to be available, I became interested. Official languages have been my passion for 25 years, when I was a municipal councillor working on a bilingualism policy for Ottawa and when I was part of the movement to ensure that that policy was implemented in the City of Ottawa. I wanted to continue working for the francophonie and official languages. I saw that those were two options.

When I found out the position would be open, I knew it would be a challenge. Having spent some time in politics, I decided to apply, and here I am after going through a very rigorous process.

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I can assure you that official languages will always be important to me, just as they were during my 12-year tenure as Ontario's Minister responsible for Francophone Affairs.

I'm passionate about official languages, and I hope to convince you of that. I will follow in the footsteps of the outgoing commissioner, Graham Fraser, with whom I worked for 12 years and who did an excellent job. I will follow in his footsteps to keep improving the francophone situation outside Quebec and to help official language minority communities in Canada.

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