As It Happens

Michaëlle Jean under fire over expenses as she heads into Francophonie election

The former Governor General has lost the support of France and is facing tough opposition from Conservative lawmakers in her home province of Quebec.

Former Canadian GG up for re-election as secretary general of the French-speaking nations' organization

As Canada's former governor general Michaëlle Jean is seeking re-election as leader of la Francophonie, an international organization of French-speaking nations. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

As Canada's former Governor General Michaëlle Jean seeks re-election as leader of la Francophonie, she has lost the support of France and is facing tough opposition from lawmakers in her home province of Quebec. 

Jean was named secretary general of the French-speaking nations' organization in 2014, with a promise to promote economic development, gender equality and dialogue, especially among developing African nations. 

In recent months she has been dogged by questions about her expenses, which include a $500,000 renovation to her rented Paris residence and a $20,000 piano, according to Quebecor media outlets.

"She needs to show some leadership," Quebec MP Alupa Clarke told As It Happens host Carol Off. "It's a complete fiasco right now."

Jean's office did not respond to As It Happens' request for comment, but she defended her expenses in French-language interviews in 2017.

She told TFO the Canadian government assigned her a residence that was in dire need of renovations, and that items like the grand piano were necessary to create an atmosphere where she could host diplomatic receptions.

Conservative MP Alupa Clarke says Jean's expenses are harming Canada's international reputation. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

That explanation doesn't cut it for Clarke.

"I do not exactly agree with all those expenses for diplomatic reasons," he said. "She needs to come clear publicly at the mic and explain herself way more than just answering here and there."

'A problem for our reputation'

He said his constituents have contacted him to express their concerns about Jean.

Canada is the second biggest donor to the International Organization of la Francophonie (OIF).

"When I speak to Canadians in the street, they're embarrassed right now," he said. "It's a problem for our reputation."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured with Jean at the OIF Headquarters in Paris in April. The federal government is standing behind the former governor general. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Clarke's colleague, Gérard Deltell, also piled on, claiming that "only Liberals" could be proud of Jean's reign.

"Michaëlle Jean has become an embarrassment to Canada," he said in question period.

"She has managed the organization in a completely irresponsible way."

Bloc Quebecois MP Xavier Barsalou-Duval also suggested the Liberals should not support Jean given various "scandals" during her tenure.

Canada backs Jean as France drops support 

Also not supporting Jean this time is France, which dealt a blow to Jean's chances at a second term when President Emmanuel Macron said he would back Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo when the organization chooses a new leader in October.

But the governments of both Canada and Quebec have pledged to support Jean, while conceding there is room to improve the organization's financial management.

"Our government is determined to [ensure] that Canadians' money is used judiciously and rigorously," Justine Lesage, spokesperson for International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, told As It Happens in an emailed statement.

"That is why our government is engaging with the OIF to helping modernize its management practices, achieve a more effective communication of results as well as a greater transparency."

Jean is pictured with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris in July 2017. He is now backing another candidate in the OIF leadership race. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

Lesage also defended Jean's legacy as a champion of human rights and Canadian values, noting she is the only secretary general of the organization to have been invited to speak at the United Nations Security Council.

"We are proud to have a Canadian at the head of an important international organization such as the OIF," Lesage said.

A similar position was expressed by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who said last week he is happy to see a Quebecer and Canadian leading the organization. 

He added that concerns about its finances "have been heard," saying he believes Jean intends to present a plan to address the matter. 

"Ms. Jean actively promotes our Canadian priorities such as gender equality and entrepreneurship among youth and women."

Jean, who was born in Haiti, was Canada's governor general from 2005 to 2010.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Canadian Press. Interview with Alupa Clarke produced by Kevin Robertson.


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