Inside Politics

Quebec reaction to PM's new communications director

When Angelo Persichilli was announced as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new director of communications on Wednesday, it wasn't hard to get up to speed on his point of view about some of the issues he may handle in his new job.

Persichilli has covered federal politics in his columns for the Toronto Star, the Hill Times and in the Italian-Canadian newspaper Corriere Canadese, among others, for years.

His columns on Quebec have drawn perhaps the most interest, and today Le Devoir reported (requires subscription or purchase; here's the truncated translation) that a French-language rights group has written a letter of complaint to Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser (also, as it happens, a former Toronto Star columnist). 

Almost instant update: A spokesman for the official languages commissioner says the office will now look into the complaint, which he confirms he received, to see if an investigation is warranted. He also noted that they will have to evaluate the difference between political appointees versus public servants.

Radio-Canada's Ottawa bureau chief Emmanuelle Latraverse summarizes the controversy this way:

It didn't take long for Stephen Harper's new director of communications to get noticed in Quebec.

Much has been said about the fact that he doesn't speak French, even though the reality is that only two of the last eight director of communications have actually been fluently bilingual.

But it's his writings that are causing more than a few eyebrows to be raised.

For example, back in April 2010, in a column titled "Be careful what you wish for, Monsieur Duceppe," Angelo Persichilli wrote that "Duceppe may not have to work hard to convince Canadians to let [Quebec] go," because "many are tired of the annoying lament from a province that keeps on yelling at those who pays part of its bills."

And barely a week after the last election, he applauded the fact that the Conservatives had finally won a majority without the support of Quebec, thereby "downsizing Quebec's unjustified ambitions." The PM's new director of communications concluded that Harper's new Quebec-less majority "is definitely a plus for all Canadians, in all provinces, that this form of political blackmail is gone."

When asked to comment, the Prime Minister's press secretary Carl Vallée responded, "The Prime minister places a great importance on the place of Quebec within our government. He is determined to ensure that the voice of Quebeckers be broadened and to build a broad base of support in Quebec in the coming years."

Already Liberals and New Democrats are lining up to add their grain of salt. 

The Prime Minister's Office commented again Friday morning.

"The prime minister has been quite clear - both on the morning after the election and at the party convention - that Quebec will remain at the heart of our government," MacDougall wrote in a statement. 

"We will continue to practice open federalism towards Quebec and to build our support there with our low-tax plan for jobs and growth."

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