This is messy. The Francophonie wants Michaëlle Jean gone, but she just won’t leave.
Canada brought her to this party, and now, well, it’s embarrassing for all.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in theory at least, supported Ms. Jean’s doomed bid for a second term as secretary-general of La Francophonie right up until Tuesday, just hours before he left for the organization’s summit in Armenia. Then he had to ditch her.
It’s clear Ms. Jean won’t take a hint. What’s less obvious is why Mr. Trudeau kept burning political capital by backing her candidacy for so long, for months after it was hopeless.
Ms. Jean, of course, is the former governor-general of Canada, and her CV made her an off-the-beaten path choice as secretary-general of the Francophonie in 2014. She was a Haitian refugee, Canada’s glamorous former viceroy and UNESCO’s special envoy to Haiti.
Now, her tenure at the Francophonie is ending ugly. The way it is ending demonstrates she doesn’t have the political judgment for her quasi-political job.
For months, the writing has been on the wall. It wasn’t just reports of ritzy expenses such as a $20,000 piano. In the spring, another candidate, Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, was endorsed by France and the African Union. That combination of the organization’s leading donor and African countries, which make up the bulk of La Francophonie, is unbeatable.
Yet Ms. Jean didn’t bow out. On Tuesday, just hours before boarding the plane to Armenia, Mr. Trudeau withdrew Canada’s support for her candidacy and backed the consensus behind Ms. Mushikiwabo. Quebec’s new premier-designate, François Legault, followed suit.
In the meantime, Mélanie Joly, the Canadian minister responsible for La Francophonie, had a difficult meeting with Ms. Jean, according to a source who was not authorized to make a public statement, telling her she didn’t have the votes. She couldn’t possibly win.
Ms. Jean replied that she’d try to convince leaders of Francophonie countries in an address about her record on Friday.
Give Ms. Jean 10 points for chutzpah. Minus a thousand for being out of touch with reality.
It’s hard to imagine the assembled national leaders, having pledged support to Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, being swayed to cheers by Ms. Jean’s moving oratory, like the close of a Frank Capra movie. Ms. Jean is betting on it.
That sets a collision course. Diplomatic campaigns such as this one are expected to maintain a genteel veneer. The Francophonie has never even held a vote on this post; it always chooses by consensus. The confrontation makes representatives of those countries uncomfortable.
It’s surprising it came this far. Mr. Trudeau’s government could have cut her loose months ago. Instead, it burned political capital fighting a lost cause against a candidate backed by a G7 ally, France, and by African countries whose support will be needed for a more consequential campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2020.
Ms. Jean wasn’t Mr. Trudeau’s appointee – it was Stephen Harper who backed her for the job in 2014. Mr. Trudeau might have been more ruthless. There were questions about her expenses – Ms. Jean insisted that it wasn’t her decision to spend $500,000 on renovations for the Paris apartment provided by the Canadian government, but she didn’t explain others, such as the piano, or reports of a $50,000 trip to New York with her entourage.
Presumably, there was reluctance to be blunt with a former governor-general.
When Mr. Trudeau first threw his support behind Ms. Jean, there were no other candidates. Even after France and the African Union lined up behind a rival, Canadian officials spent months trying to determine if the race was really lost. There were whispers African countries weren’t united; some expressed sympathy for Ms. Jean. But none broke ranks to back her. Eventually, it was understood they were saying nice things, but they weren’t going to back her. They wanted her to bow out elegantly.
Ms. Jean apparently didn’t want to hear that. Government officials didn’t tell her to quit. They warned her for weeks she had little hope. She didn’t take the hint.
Now, the best Mr. Trudeau can hope for is that by withdrawing his support for Ms. Jean, he has avoided a full-on clash – and that some Francophonie countries might back Canada’s UN bid as consolation. But it’s an uncomfortable end.