The appointment by the Conservative government of unilingual Michael Ferguson as Canada’s new Auditor General has sparked controversy.
The government’s own job posting stated: “proficiency in both official languages is essential.”
On November 3, the Liberals walked out of the Senate and all NDP members voted against the appointment, calling the decision an abuse of power.
Asked why NDP did not choose to boycott the vote, co-President of NDP McGill Samuel Harris explained, “The NDP strongly disagree with it. We represent the most francophones out of any party, but expressing our opinion in Parliament and voting against it sends a stronger message.”
Section 20 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom states, “Any member of the public in Canada has the right to communicate with, and to receive available services from, any head or central office of an institution of the Parliament or government of Canada in English or French.”
However, McGill political science professor Richard Schultz said that Section 20 does not specifically apply to the position of Auditor General.
“If I was to go up to the Auditor General’s office, it would be like me going to the post office in the sense that I could get service in English or French, but there is nothing in there that says he has to be [bilingual], it’s just taken for granted,” he said.
Schultz called the decision “offensively rude,” however.
“It’s an affront to Parliament because the Auditor General is a parliamentary officer. He or she serves Parliament, not the government,” he said.
In fact, Schultz believes opposition parties were “snookered.” Ferguson had been the Auditor General of New Brunswick, Canada’s only constitutionally bilingual province.
“It must have been assumed he spoke both languages,” said Schultz.
Schultz continued by saying he didn’t consider the appointment anti-francophone, but noted, “I can’t imagine how Anglophones would feel if we appointed a unilingual francophone to that position.”
Harris disagreed, saying, “It’s plain and simple, because he’s not bilingual, he’s not qualified for the job. It’s not partisan, it’s just part of the job requirements.”
Schultz said that, though he has no doubt Ferguson is highly qualified, he thinks Ferguson should resign as Auditor General.
Ferguson declined to comment, writing in an email to The Daily that he “[wasn’t] taking interviews at the present time.”