The president of the largest French-language university in Canada outside Quebec is the Liberal government's nominee to be the next commissioner of official languages, Radio-Canada is reporting.
A Franco-Manitoban, Raymond Théberge has been president and vice-chancellor of the Moncton, N.B., university since 2012. Théberge previously served as an assistant deputy minister, which is a senior non-political role, in the government of former Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty.
The official languages commissioner is an officer of Parliament whose job it is to ensure both official languages have equal status in federal institutions, legislation and in Parliament itself.
The reported appointment comes after the previous nominee, Madeleine Meilleur, withdrew her candidacy after it emerged that the former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister had donated to the federal Liberal Party and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he was campaigning to head up the party.
Théberge was never a member of the Liberal Party of Canada nor did he donate to the party, Radio-Canada reported.
Before being officially appointed, a nominee must appear before a House of Commons committee, a process that could take a few weeks.
When the Trudeau government first chose Meilleur as commissioner, Francophone groups and opposition parties sharply criticized her nomination, arguing the commissioner must be independent of any political influence.
The process for nominating Meilleur was also criticized. The NDP argued the Liberals violated the Official Languages Act by not consulting opposition parties before making the nomination. Meilleur eventually withdrew her name from contention.
On Thursday Trudeau told reporters in Prince Edward Island that his party made a commitment to find the right person and is consulting with the opposition parties, but has no announcement to make yet.
Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly, who has not confirmed the report of Théberge's nomination, said she recently consulted with the opposition critics on her government's nomination.
"The appointment process for the Commissioner of Official Languages is very important," she said in French. "We want to respect the integrity of the process. "
The Société Nationale de l'Acadie (SNA), welcomed the news saying Théberge had been nominated.
"The journey of Mr. Théberge, in Manitoba, Ontario more recently in Acadia, suggests that he has a good knowledge of French-speaking communities in Canada," SNA President Louise Imbeault said in a French statement.
Informing vs. consulting
New Democrat Nathan Cullen said his party has received letters from the prime minister's office informing them of two proposed appointments — one for the official languages commissioner's job, and the second for the next federal lobbying commissioner.
However, Cullen said Trudeau's office is once again informing the opposition parties rather than consulting with them as required.
"This is the exact same thing that they did when they appointed a language commissioner — or tried to — months ago and the whole thing blew up in their face."
"I'm surprised, actually, because I thought they would have learned that respecting the law and respecting Parliament was important to Mr. Trudeau. That is apparently not so much the case."
However, the government is running out of time to fill the two positions. Interim Official Languages Commissioner Ghislaine Saikaley's mandate is scheduled to end on Dec. 16 while outgoing Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd's mandate, which has been renewed in the past, ends on Dec. 29.
Once the government officially announces the candidates, they will have to testify before a parliamentary committee and be approved by a vote in Parliament. However, Parliament already has a busy agenda and it is only scheduled to sit for three more weeks before it rises for its six-week Christmas break.