The former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister who has been nominated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to serve as the next Commissioner of Official Languages says she met with senior Trudeau advisers to discuss appointment options in the months after she resigned as an MPP.
The Conservatives and the New Democrats oppose the selection of Madeleine Meilleur as language commissioner, one of the eight Officers of Parliament who are expected to operate independently of the government. They say she is a partisan and that they were not consulted before her nomination, as is required by law.
Ms. Meilleur was the MPP for the riding of Ottawa-Vanier for 13 years. She held cabinet posts in the Ontario Liberal government, including that of minister responsible for francophone affairs, and has donated money to the federal Liberals and to Mr. Trudeau's leadership campaign.
Under questioning from opposition members on Thursday at a meeting of the Commons official languages committee, she explained that she talked with Liberal officials in the days and months before a Justice department official called her in late April to say the nomination was hers.
Among the people she consulted, she said, was Gerald Butts, the senior political adviser to Mr. Trudeau. She explained that she knew Mr. Butts well from the time he worked for former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.
In addition, she said, she met with Katie Telford, Mr. Trudeau's chief of staff. "I had a coffee with Katie," Ms. Meilleur said, "and I was asking her if I could offer my service to serve Canadians."
And she said she met with Mathieu Bouchard, Mr. Trudeau's Quebec adviser, who, she said, wanted to talk to her about bilingualism in the city of Ottawa.
"Perhaps for certain people, it's an advantage" to have that kind of access to PMO staff when applying to be an Officer of Parliament, Ms. Meilleur later told reporters, but "this is the process, I followed the process and here I am today."
When asked in the committee meeting about the last time she actually met with Mr. Trudeau, Ms. Meilleur said it was at a dinner hosted by Asian lawyers in Toronto during the 2015 federal election campaign, when she was still an MPP. She said she did not remember whether the event was a fundraiser.
Ms. Meilleur told committee members that, before she resigned as an MPP in June 2016, she was thinking about becoming a senator. She said she invited Huguette Labelle, the chair of the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments, to an International Women's Day event at which she mentioned her interest in the Red Chamber. Ms. Labelle, she said, explained that recent politicians were not welcome as senators.
So when she learned that the job of Official Languages Commissioner was opening up, she set her sights on that.
The House of Commons and the Senate must approve Ms. Meilleur's appointment. Both the Conservatives and the NDP have asked Geoff Regan, the Speaker of the House of Commons, to delay a vote on the matter until the leaders of every recognized party have been properly consulted.
The parties say that, rather than a consultation, they received a letter from the Liberal government in May – after Ms. Meilleur had been told she was Mr. Trudeau's nominee – informing them of the selection and asking for feedback.
"This is about an appointment process that is singularly deficient and, as far as we're concerned, illegal at this stage," Tom Mulcair, the NDP Leader, told reporters after he took the unusual step of sitting in on the committee proceeding and putting questions to Ms. Meilleur.
"There is no critical distance between Madame Meilleur and Justin Trudeau for her to be able to bring any sort of credible judgment on the government of Justin Trudeau in this very important issue of official languages," Mr. Mulcair said.
John Nater, the Conservative MP for Perth-Wellington, who sits on the official languages committee, said it is clear that the nomination process has not been open and transparent.
"There has obviously been direct intervention by the Prime Minister's Office," Mr. Nater said. "The candidate has met with key officials in the Prime Minister's Office. It is a disappointing outcome to see a distinguished provincial politician have to be put through a process where she is being tainted by the actions of the Prime Minister."