Michael Ferguson, the newly nominated candidate for the Auditor-General's job, says he thinks he can be proficient in French in a year.
The unilingual Mr. Ferguson tackled the language issue head on as he appeared before the Commons public accounts committee on Monday. He called it his challenge.
While some MPs have expressed concern about his lack of French, Mr. Ferguson said learning the language will be his No. 1 priority.
“I am not a beginner in the language,” he said, although he admitted he cannot readily carry on a conversation. “I am already in the process of improving my skills in the language.”
Mr. Ferguson said he thinks he can be proficient in a “reasonably short period of time, the first year.”
His opening statement was mostly in French, read from a prepared text.
NDP MP Yvon Godin pointed out, however, that Mr. Ferguson spent 11 years in senior positions in bilingual New Brunswick, but didn't learn French.
The nominee spent five years as the province's Auditor-General and a year as deputy finance minister. He was also provincial comptroller.
Mr. Ferguson said he is committed to being bilingual.
“I recognize the importance of being able to communicate in both official languages,” he said. “I have not yet attained sufficient capability in French. I have made a commitment to learn French because I feel it is important.”
Mr. Godin asked if he had read the formal requirements of the job, which called for a bilingual candidate.
Mr. Ferguson said he had been approached by a recruiting firm and didn't read the official job posting.
He said, though, he believes he built up a good track record as auditor general in New Brunswick. “My performance in that role is a matter of public record.”
He said his experience and record brought him to Ottawa. “The selection committee looked at my skills set and have brought my name forward to you,” he told the MPs.
He said he has a broad range of experience in working in government “I think the record will show that in the roles that I have served in, I have been successful.”
Liberal MP Mauril Belanger also tackled the language question. He wondered if Mr. Ferguson would be able to deal with French staff in the Auditor-General's office.
Mr. Ferguson said people can work in their language of choice.
Mr. Belanger said it looks like the opposition parties will oppose the nomination.
Because the Auditor-General is an officer of Parliament, the appointment has to be approved by both the House of Commons and the Senate. The Conservatives have a majority in both houses, and they have made it clear they fully back Mr. Ferguson.
“It would seem that the only party represented in the House that will support you is the government party,” Mr. Belanger said.
He suggested that having an officer of Parliament supported by only one party could be a problem.
Mr. Ferguson said he would have to await the vote.
As for the actual jobMr. , Ferguson said he hopes to be able to follow the example set by his predecessor, Sheila Fraser. He said he doesn't see any need to change the way the office operates.