Michaëlle Jean, in la Francophonie post, to work closely with PM again

Former governor general Michaëlle Jean is seen a person who can bring others together, an attribute that will be put to the test as the next Secretary General of the International Organization of La Francophonie, Rosemary Barton writes.

Canada is La Francophonie's 2nd largest financial contributor

Michaelle Jean and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are seen at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in 2010. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Michaëlle Jean has always been known as something of a "rassembleuse", a person who can bring others together.

That title will be tested to the max over the next four years during her mandate as Secretary General of the International Organization of La Francophonie.

The Francophonie is defined by its common language and parts of its culture, but really, very little else.
It is spread over five continents and dozens of countries.

Some of those countries are not democratic, some not particularly fond of practising respectable human rights in line with those of Canada.

Yet, Jean must find some common ground and steer the Francophonie in such a way that it will still be considered relevant.

Part of her and the Francophonie's plan is to shape the organization into one that is more focused on economic development. It is, after all, far easier to pull countries towards democracy and fairness if there is prosperity.

Jean may well have to work hand in glove with Stephen Harper to make all of that happen.

Canada is the Francophonie's second largest financial contributor. It has weight and influence.

And if you want a sign that people in the organization care about Canada, you need only look at the victory of Jean, which was decidedly closer than many had expected.

Harper's approach to getting Jean into the top job was described by Quebec's Premier, Philippe Couillard, as "tenacious."

So, why was Harper so determined to help Jean get the job?

Certainly, he believes she was the best candidate. Harper called her an "outstanding individual" when reacting to the win.

He suggested that as a woman, a Canadian, Jean can push the organization into a new era.

All of that may be true, but Jean's presence can do more than that for Harper.

A Canadian at the helm of an international organization which represents more than 270 million francophones, is remarkable.

It immediately makes Canada a little more important on the world stage.

Given that Harper so publicly and proudly backed Jean, he will benefit from some of that attention and respect.

But the victory could also help Harper more concretely with his own policies.

The importance of maternal and child health is something of a legacy issue for Harper. He also used his time in Senegal to push immunizations and micronutrients for women and children. They are basic solutions which save millions of lives and are almost entirely uncontroversial.

Many of the countries which so desperately need Canada's help, are in Africa, the continent with the most voting members in the Francophonie.

And now, as the Secretary General of the Francophonie, Jean will soon be able to help Harper promote and implement some of Canada's policies by encouraging members in the right direction.

It is an alliance that may seem unexpected at first. But really, for both Jean and Harper, it makes a whole lot of sense.


  • An earlier version of this story quoted a statement from Gov. Gen. David Johnston noting Michaëlle Jean is the first woman and the first Canadian to head the International Organization of la Francophonie, which was created in 1997. In the early 1990s, Canadian Jean-Louis Roy was head of an earlier organization now under the umbrella of la Francophonie.
    Dec 01, 2014 1:34 PM ET

About the Author

Rosemary Barton is CBC's Chief Political Correspondent, based in Ottawa.


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