Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be giving one last push this week to the faltering campaign of former governor-general Michaëlle Jean for a second mandate as the leader of the Paris-based Francophonie organization.
Mr. Trudeau has expended diplomatic capital in support of Ms. Jean, spending time on the phone and in person with other world leaders to argue in favour of a second mandate for the former Canadian journalist as head of the French-speaking equivalent of the Commonwealth.
In recent months, Mr. Trudeau offered his “strong support for the re-election” of Ms. Jean in separate discussions with his counterparts from Benin, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Niger, Rwanda and Senegal, according to the official account of the Prime Minister’s Office.
However, with the Francophonie leaders' summit starting in Armenia on Thursday, Ms. Jean is facing off against Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who has the support of French President Emmanuel Macron and many African leaders.
While Ms. Jean has the official backing of Haiti, where she was born, she has failed to win a clear show of support from the incoming Quebec government. In particular, premier-designate François Legault has called for “assurances” over financial management and greater transparency at the headquarters of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) before announcing his intentions.
Ms. Jean has suffered in recent months from negative coverage over her spending, including questions over the renovations of her official residence. However, there was also a concerted effort by African countries to have someone from the continent at the helm of the major international organization that represents 57 countries and 274 million francophones around the world.
Ms. Jean, who was Canada’s governor-general from 2005 to 2010 and became the Francophonie’s secretary-general in 2014, has no intention of giving up.
“I confirm she’ll be there until the end and probably beyond,” Ms. Jean’s spokesman, Bertin Leblanc, told The Canadian Press.
In a recent interview with media outlet Jeune Afrique, Ms. Jean said that Mr. Macron’s position against her created a “malaise” inside the organization.
“The summit will be a moment of truth when we will decide what kind of Francophonie we want. I am confident,” she said.
Scheduled to leave Ottawa on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Legault will be travelling to the Francophonie leaders’ summit that starts on Thursday in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly is already there as the lead minister on the Francophonie file. She has said that Canada continues to support Ms. Jean’s candidacy, while hoping that the issue of the leadership of the organization will not create a split at the summit.
“It is important for the summit to be a success. We want to make sure that we have Canadians that are a part of the direction and the leadership of our international organizations,” Ms. Joly said last week.
Jocelyn Coulon, an expert on foreign relations who has written a book on Mr. Trudeau’s foreign policy, said Ottawa would be smart at this point to turn its attention to its 2020 campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, in which African votes will be crucial.
“Canada has not had a dynamic presence in Africa since the election of the Conservative government in 2006,” said Mr. Coulon, who was an adviser to former foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion. “If Canada doesn’t block the candidacy of [Ms. Mushikiwabo], it can help, but it will take more than that to breathe new life into Canada’s campaign for the Security Council.”
The Francophonie is an organization made up of countries with large populations of French speakers, but also countries such as Armenia that have historical ties to France or the French language. About half the population of Armenia speaks Russian, and there are proportionately fewer French speakers in the country than there are in the United States.
Yerevan does have a small French university, which gives students who don’t know French enough comprehension to study business or law in the language by their third year.