Three members of Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly's staff worked for the Ontario Liberals while Madeleine Meilleur was in office, with two of them reporting directly to Ms. Meilleur, the Trudeau government's pick for official languages commissioner.
Both the Tories and the NDP have complained about the partisan Liberal background of Ms. Meilleur, who, as an officer of Parliament, would be expected to operate independently of the government and would report directly to the House of Commons or the Senate.
Ms. Joly's director of communications, Christine Michaud, and her scheduling assistant, Vinciane Museru, held the same jobs for Ms. Meilleur when she was Ontario's attorney-general and minister of francophone affairs, according to information posted online.
Ms. Joly's policy director, Caroline Séguin, played several operational roles in Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's office for two years while Ms. Meilleur was in cabinet.
In a statement, Ms. Joly's office confirmed Ms. Michaud and Ms. Museru worked for Ms. Meilleur at Queen's Park but said they had nothing to do with the federal appointment. Spokesman Pierre-Olivier Herbert noted Ms. Séguin never worked for Ms. Meilleur.
"They were not involved in the appointment process. As already mentioned, the appointment process for the Commissioner of Official Languages was rigorous and merit-based. A selection committee composed of a majority of public servants gave a short list of recommendations to the Minister who then made her final recommendation," he said.
The revelations are likely to ramp up criticisms from the Conservatives and New Democrats that the selection of Ms. Meilleur as bilingualism watchdog is partisan. Both parties are attempting to block the appointment of the long-time Ottawa MPP, one of the eight officers of Parliament who are expected to operate independently of the government. The parties also claim they were not consulted before her nomination, as is required by law.
Ms. Joly garnered fierce reaction in the House of Commons on Wednesday when she claimed Ms. Meilleur never spoke about the post with two of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's closest advisers.
The Conservatives noted that Ms. Meilleur herself had told the official languages committee she'd had contact with both Gerald Butts, Mr. Trudeau's principal secretary, and his chief of staff, Katie Telford.
Ms. Joly, who is responsible for the official languages portfolio, spent much of Question Period answering questions about Ms. Meilleur, as has been the case since her selection was made public.
"What I can confirm is that Mrs. Meilleur had no discussion regarding the official languages commissioner position with Gerry Butts and Katie Telford," Ms. Joly told reporters later, adding she hadn't spoken to Ms. Meilleur.
She didn't specify the source of her comments, but they appeared to run contrary to what Ms. Meilleur told the official languages committee in mid-May when she detailed two meetings with the top advisers.
The PMO said in an e-mail Wednesday that the position of official languages commissioner was never discussed during those meetings, which took place well before the selection process was launched.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms. Michaud worked as director of communications at the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney-General between October, 2014, and January, 2016. Ms. Meilleur was attorney-general from March, 2014, to June, 2016, when she resigned.
Ms. Museru worked in Queen's Park as Ms. Meilleur's scheduler and assistant and began the same job in Ms. Joly's office on Jan. 3, according to an article in the Hill Times newspaper.
The Liberals insist that Ms. Meilleur's selection was based on merit, experience and a track record of defending francophone rights. Ms. Meilleur was the MPP in the riding of Ottawa-Vanier for 13 years. She held several 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.
- With a report from the Canadian Press