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Opposition cries foul over Harper's unilingual choice for Auditor-General

A stop sign is seen near Peace Tower in Ottawa on Dec. 30, 2009.


Sheila Fraser's successor can't speak French and the opposition is outraged.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae says his caucus will oppose the nomination of Michael Ferguson, a former New Brunswick auditor and deputy minister. And NDP MP Yvon Godin has gone one step farther, filing a letter of protest to the Official Languages Commissioner.

"I wish to point out that the government is violating its own rules," Mr. Godin wrote to Graham Fraser, referring to the Auditor-General's job description, which says "proficiency in both official languages is essential."

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"The series of unilingual appointments made by the Conservative government to key positions is not a good sign for Canada's linguistic duality," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently named Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver, who is also unilingual, to the Supreme Court of Canada. And Mr. Harper's new director of communications, Angelo Persichilli, struggles with French.

The opposition criticism will only make Mr. Ferguson's job that much more difficult. In succeeding Ms. Fraser, he is trying to fill the shoes of one of the country's best-known and most-respected public servants.

The appointment – which lasts for 10 years and comes with an annual salary of $334,500 – must be approved by a resolution of the Senate and House of Commons. But the numbers mean the Conservative majority will again get its way, despite opposition resistance.

Mr. Rae raised the issue in Question Period Wednesday, accusing the government of not revealing Mr. Ferguson's language deficit when the Prime Minister initially consulted his rivals on the appointment.

"The government has put the House in a difficult position," Mr. Rae charged. "When the Prime Minister asked the leaders of the opposition for their views on this particular candidate, the government did not disclose the fact that he was unilingual. It did not tell us that fact and so, now, we are facing a situation where we find out this information is the case."

Outside of the House, Mr. Rae said that had he known of the language issue he would have told the Prime Minister "it's not on."

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Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, answering for the Prime Minister, who is on his way to Commonwealth meeting in Australia, said Mr. Ferguson was the most meritorious candidate and was nominated after an exhaustive selection process.

Besides, the minister stressed, Mr. Ferguson has "undertaken" to learn French.

PMO spokesperson Sara McIntyre added that "at the end of the process Mr. Ferguson emerged as the most qualified candidate for the position."

"Appointments are based on merit and Mr. Ferguson brings significant experience to the role of Auditor-General and a proven track record of objectivity," she said. "We look forward to parliamentary approval of his appointment."

Mr. Rae was incredulous there was no bilingual candidate who could also do the job. Calling the situation "ridiculous," he pointed out that for the past 20 years the Auditor-General has been bilingual.

The strength of the spending watchdog is that he or she has the trust and support of the entire House of Commons – not just one party.

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"For me it's clear that the government is not taking its obligations well enough to say we want somebody who can communicate strongly, clearly, emphatically in both official languages," Mr. Rae charged. "We think that's something that should be done and I think it's really regrettable that Mr. Harper, frankly, has put Mr. Ferguson in this position."

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