Politics

Could Michaëlle Jean become secretary-general of La Francophonie?

Former governor general Michaëlle Jean's bid for secretary-general of La Francophonie is getting support from the federal government, Quebec, New Brunswick and her native Haiti, but it remains to be seen how many other members of la Francophonie will endorse her.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined by Quebec, New Brunswick premiers at summit in Senegal

Former Governor General Michaelle Jean, seen here in her capacity as University of Ottawa Chancellor, was one of five candidates in the running to become secretary-general of La Francophonie. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the premiers of Quebec and New Brunswick will attend this weekend's summit of la Francophonie which could see ex governor general Michaëlle Jean become secretary-general of the organization.

Jean is one of five candidates seeking to replace the outgoing Abdou Diouf, who is stepping down after more than 10 years on the job.

Jean is getting support from the federal government, Quebec, New Brunswick and her native Haiti, but it remains to be seen how many other members of la Francophonie will endorse her.

The organization has 57 members or associate members, while another 20 jurisdictions have observer status.

The summit begins in the Senegalese capital of Dakar on Saturday, with the organization's new leader being announced Sunday.

Besides Harper, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and New Brunswick's Brian Gallant will be among those attending the various plenaries at the 15th summit of la Francophonie, where the major themes are women and youth.

'New look' for Francophonie

Jean, who served as governor general between 2005 and 2010, is getting a big push from the Quebec delegation in Senegal.

"We're talking about her, what she's done in her career and how she could give la Francophonie a new look," said Christine St-Pierre, Quebec's international relations minister.

St-Pierre described Jean as a woman of vision who would provide fresh impetus for la Francophonie.

"We know she's a woman who lives in the Northern Hemisphere but she's also from the south because she's from Haiti and she has a good understanding of the French-speaking world," St-Pierre said after meeting with representatives of women's groups.

According to the Quebec cabinet minister, electing Jean as the first woman to head the organization would send a "powerful" message for equality.

"We talk about women making up half the world," she said. "Well, they also make up half of la Francophonie and we need to tell them: 'Look, you have in the secretary-general the necessary person to make progress in establishing equality between men and women."

Department providing support

The prime minister's office confirmed Friday that the foreign affairs department has spent about $55,000 covering Jean's travel costs as part of her bid for the post.

In addition, Jacques Bilodeau, a diplomatic advisor for Jean, has been retained on a three-month contract. He worked with Jean when she was UNESCO's special envoy for Haiti.

Jean's candidacy ended up surfacing in the Commons on Thursday when NDP MP Pierre Dionne Labelle accused the Conservatives of giving French short shrift on the new (at)Canada twitter account the government is using to promote Canada.

The NDP said the site just contains translations from English into French — and poor ones to boot.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney responded by saying Quebec has a seat at la Francophonie and that New Brunswick will support Jean's candidacy.

with files from CBC News

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