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Harper's new top messenger vows to treat Quebeckers with 'utmost respect'

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pauses during a speech to Conservative supporters in Asbestos, Que., during the federal election campaign on April 26, 2011.


Let the games begin.

Mere hours after the Prime Minister's Office announced that veteran journalist Angelo Persichilli was taking over as communications director, a political skeleton was found in his closet.

Sun Media's David Akin dug up a column in The Toronto Star in which Mr. Persichilli criticized Quebeckers and their influence in Ottawa – not a line of argument you'd expect from Stephen Harper's top communications strategist.

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"Many are tired of the annoying lament from a province that keeps yelling at those who pay part of its bills and are concerned by the over-representation of francophones in our bureaucracy, our Parliament and our institutions," Mr. Persichilli wrote about 18 months ago.

Mr. Persichilli told The Globe Thursday morning that he doesn't really remember the column. He stressed, however, that he has the "utmost respect for all Canadians and definitely a lot respect for all Canadians living in Quebec, whatever language they speak."

He added: "I will do whatever is in my capacity first to serve the government and eventually to serve the Canadian people – and I have the utmost respect for people living in Quebec, no doubt about it."

Mr. Persichilli begins his job Tuesday, replacing Dimitri Soudas, who was one of Mr. Harper's most loyal servants. The 32-year-old, who is moving to Toronto and hopes to spend more time with his young family, had strong ties to Quebec and had long advised the Prime Minister on issues in the province.

The 63-year-old Mr. Persichilli, meanwhile, does not speak French but has vowed to learn how. "I don't know how long it's going to take," he said, noting that lessons begin next week.

Regardless of his own linguistic ability, he said that Quebeckers "will get all the attention they deserve" from the federal government.

Andrew MacDougall, who was Mr. Soudas's deputy in the PMO communications shop, will now serve as spokesman for the Prime Minister in both official languages.

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Mr. Persichilli was plucked from the ethnic press, which the Conservatives have paid much attention to during their tenure in office. In addition to his column in The Toronto Star, Mr. Persichilli was political editor of the Italian-language newspaper Corriere Canadese and served as an executive at Omni-TV, a multicultural station.

The appointment is clearly a nod to the new Canadian communities, which Mr. Harper has heavily courted with the help of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

In fact, Mr. Kenney was one of the first off the block to congratulate Mr. Perschilli on his appointment. On Twitter, he referred to Mr. Persichilli as a "friend" and "the eminence grise of Canadian ethnic media."

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