The incoming governor-general and her filmmaker husband are not closet separatists, Prime Minister Paul Martin insisted yesterday in telephone conversations with Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and federal Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
In an effort to quell a uniquely Canadian furor, Mr. Martin took to the telephone after the two Alberta politicians expressed concerns about allegations from hard-line Quebec separatists that Michaëlle Jean's husband was secretly one of them.
The Prime Minister's Office said that all proper checks were made and there is no ambiguity when it comes to the federalist leanings of Ms. Jean and Jean-Daniel Lafond. High-profile appointments such as governors-general and their spouses are vetted by the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Mr. Martin's intervention seemed to put the issue to rest until Sept. 27, the date of Ms. Jean's swearing-in ceremony. She is expected to speak to reporters then.
Yesterday, PMO spokesman Scott Reid expressed confidence that, in Ms. Jean, the Prime Minister appointed the right person to the viceregal post.
"There is a rigorous process and when the Prime Minister says that he is satisfied and that we can all be satisfied that Madame Jean and Mr. Lafond are committed Canadians, we have good reasons to believe the Prime Minister," Mr. Reid said.
It is an "obvious fact" that neither Ms. Jean nor Mr. Lafond is a separatist, he added, although he refused to give details of the background check they have undergone.
"People are just going to have to take that to the bank. We are not going to disgrace either of these people or their office by asking them to turn out their underwear drawer and justify their allegiance to Queen and country," Mr. Reid said.
A Conservative spokesman said the Prime Minister's answers satisfied Mr. Harper. "All we're saying is if she is committed to the job, committed to the country, then let her do her job," William Stairs said.
At the premiers' meeting in Alberta, Mr. Klein said he was asked to relay Mr. Martin's message to other heads of provinces.
"He indicated to me that there was a thorough review by the PMO of her nomination and they never would have appointed her had they had any doubt about [the couple's]loyalty to Canada," Mr. Klein said.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest added that everyone should presume the good faith of those who accept to serve in the capacity of governor-general.
"I don't think it should go any further. We should allow them to go and do their job," he told reporters.
Mr. Lafond is at the centre of controversy after an article in a sovereigntist publication said he was friendly with former Quebec terrorists, whom he featured in a 1994 documentary.
Novelist René Boulanger, who wrote the article, also said Mr. Lafond "was a declared sovereigntist."
Mr. Lafond was born in France, was never active in the sovereignty movement in Quebec and never publicly supported Quebec independence.
In addition, there is nothing on the public record to suggest that Ms. Jean - a long-time journalist in the French and English arms of the CBC - is anything but a federalist.
After Mr. Boulanger's article was released, Mr. Harper asked whether the Martin government knew of the allegations against Mr. Lafond before announcing Ms. Jean's nomination.
"We are learning things and I wonder if the Prime Minister was aware of these things and what are his answers," Mr. Harper told reporters.
Mr. Klein was in Alberta with the other premiers when he blasted the screening process and wondered whether the government had checked Ms. Jean's voting record, including the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty.
"That is an anti-Canadian move, that is a vote to separate from Canada," Mr. Klein said. "I'm going to check into it."
In yesterday's telephone calls to Mr. Klein and Mr. Harper, the Prime Minister said the new viceregal couple are federalist.
"Mr. Martin assured them that Madame Jean and Mr. Lafond are committed Canadians, proud Quebeckers, that there is no contradiction between the two, and that there is no reason for concern. He also reminded them both of how important it is that they not use inadvertently their offices to give credence to the claims of separatists seeking to smear the names of good people," Mr. Reid said.
Mr. Klein said Mr. Martin told him that Mr. Lafond is an "academic journalist," and that his documentary on the Front de libération du Québec did not support the violent actions of the group.
Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams told reporters in Banff, Alta., that he has no idea about Mr. Lafond's background - and that it is irrelevant.
He said scrutinizing the background of the governor-general's husband is as inappropriate as probing that of a premier's spouse.
"I'm the one in politics," Mr. Williams said. "I'm the one who has a public profile. My wife's background is really nobody's business, quite frankly."
With a report from Karen Howlett in Banff