Skip to main content
Search Liberal.ca

Why we boycotted the AG vote

Posted by Bob Rae on November 3, 2011 | No Comments

How can an Auditor General — who’s job it is to protect Canadian tax payers — do his job effectively if he does not speak French?

And how can this government — that initially stated bilingualism was a requirement for the job — change the rules on Canadians at the 11th hour just to get their way? Liberals agree: they cannot.

That’s why this morning, Liberal MPs boycotted the House of Commons vote on the appointment of Michael Ferguson, a unilingual anglophone, as Canada’s Auditor General.

If you, like us, feel that the government must find a new, qualified, bilingual candidate, and must follow due process in making that appointment, please stand with us by sharing a comment below. And stand by for further news about how to challenge the Harper government.

I also invite you to read the letter I sent Stephen Harper today.

- Bob Rae

Dear Prime Minister Harper:

When you advised me of the appointment of Mr. Michael Ferguson as Canada’s Auditor General, you asked for my opinion, as is required by legislation and parliamentary practice.

In your letter you did not indicate that the candidate did not meet the government’s own written requirement that the successful applicant must have command of both of Canada’s two official languages. The government broke its own criteria.

I am writing today to ask you formally to not hold a vote on Mr Ferguson’s candidacy later today, and to start a new process to find a qualified, bilingual candidate.

A process that states there are basic qualifications, and then ignores those qualifications, is a breach of the fundamental rules of natural justice.

It is impossible for us to accept the ritually re-stated comment that the “best candidate” was successful.

Sincerely,

- The Honourable Bob Rae, P.C., O.C., M.P.

Join the conversation  

Please note that comments are moderated with the goal of stimulating an intelligent and fruitful discussion. As such, we ask that you use language that is civil and respectful, and refrain from attacks of any kind. We reserve the right to remove or not post any comments or information that does not meet these requirements.
  1. Profile photo of Mauril Bélanger Mauril Bélanger said on

    Kudos to my Liberal Caucus colleagues for boycotting this illegitimate vote! I personally made a complaint to the Commissioner of Official Languages to denounce the fact that the nominee of the Prime Minister to the position is unilingual. Bilingualism is essential to any position of Agent of Parliament.

    Vote
      0  
    • Profile photo of James Elliott James Elliott said on

      If your colleagues make a habit of boycotting proceedings in the body to which they were elected, will they continue to collect their paychecks, or will those be boycotted as well?

      Vote
        0  
  2. Profile photo of Fred Johnson Fred Johnson said on

    Is the liberal party for real?

    Nobody even noticed that Mr. Rae and his caucus “stormed” out of the House today.

    Get a life, you are not the governing party, you won’t be the governing party for some time. My guess is the Liberal Party will have turned their swords on a few leaders within your own ranks before there is a hint that the Liberal Party may once again have a sniff of power.

    Who cars if the AG is English. Being unilingual in this country is not a crime. Maybe your saviour, the second coming of trudeau will attempt to pass that law!

    I want some checks and balances within government which prevents outlandish spending.

    The Liberal Party proved, through their involvement in the Quebec Sponsorship Scandal, that obvious checks are required.

    A country going broke due to mostly Liberal excess for 40 years is going broke…in both English and French…the numbers say the same….in both languages.

    Now, since Mr. Rae and the rest of him lemmings skipped work today, is their pay and benefits docked as well?

    Vote
      0  
    • Profile photo of Ken Cunningham Ken Cunningham said on

      All knds of people noticed; i suspect it’s why you are here commenting on it now. It may be a publicity stunt but if it achieves its political purpose of getting notice and underlining the liberal parties commitment to official bi-lingualism it will have succeeded – it already has.

      Hopefully the Party is making sure this has air time in Quebec – you are right?

      Vote
        0  
  3. Profile photo of Ken Cunningham Ken Cunningham said on

    Thank you Mr Rae. If you want to know why many liberals[ like myself] have either deserted the party or simply become apathetic, it is this failure to draw lines in the sand when important principles are at stake; not just liberal principles[ though that is important] but principles that go to the heart of who we are as a country – in this case recognizing the linguistic duality of Canada’s federal governing structure and offices of Parliament. Far too often the party has abstained or simply rolled over in recent years, perhaps out of fear of losing a subsequent election, or perhaps out perceived short term politcal necessity[ putting the parties interests before those who sent them to Ottawa] People want leadership not exediency.If we don’t care about this stuff how on earth can we expect the general public too? Examples of this abound – abandoning the faint hope clause being an eregious one IMO. Yes we need on occasion to compromise, offer up workable ammedments to Govt proposals that we can’t otherwise prevent – that’s smart, but nothing breds despair and apathy then a person, party or whatever that wont fight for its beliefs; even if there is no certainty of winning. As the first comment above shows, expect to be castigated for your choices; indeed wear it as a badge of honour. Be brave. Remember whom fortune favours. Let’s see more of this please!

    Vote
      0  
    • Profile photo of Sheila Gervais Sheila Gervais said on

      Ken, this comment says it all. Canadians will support a values-driven party when – perhaps whenever – it lives by those values. Whether it is policy or whether it is our conduct, we must abide our values. Liberals support the rule of law and hold the principle of equality dear. Thank you for articulating this so well.

      Vote
        0  
      • Profile photo of Ken Cunningham Ken Cunningham said on

        Yes, i really believe to some extent the LPC has been the author of its own misfortunes[ it has to be said that Harper has also worked hard to get where he has - the liberal party, not so much]
        If it wont defend and live out its own values why should the public care? I don’t necessarily believe the party has to totally reinvent itself so much as rediscover itself; ask itself what a political party is for – more, obviously then representing a narrow range of interests, or mere self interest. I support the goal of making the party a less top down one; that is after all merely respecting the prevailing zietgeist.But what people are also looking for[ besides seeing themselves reflected within the party] is leadership. Brave leadership.

        Vote
          0  
  4. Profile photo of Jaron Easterbrook Jaron Easterbrook said on

    I believe that the AG should be hired on their ability to do their job. They can always be sent on French courses, like many unilingual MPs are.

    As a liberal supporter, I have to say I’m rather embarrassed by how such a big deal has been made of this: it seems very childish.

    Vote
      0  
  5. Profile photo of Hugh Ferguson Hugh Ferguson said on

    I tend to agree with the sentiment of other posters here, that this is going to make us look foolish. I do feel torn by the position, partly because like everything the CPC does, it appears to be a well-orchestrated trap.

    Vote
      1  
  6. Profile photo of Sylvia Sweeney Sylvia Sweeney said on

    I do congratulate the Party for reminding our Government that this is a bilingual country and as such, no matter how insignificant this may seem to some, it sets a dangerous precedent when our Government does not adhere to its own mandate. As our Government is in the position to do whatever it likes without consensus, I imagine this is just the tip of the iceberg. With this in mind, I too wonder how often we can try to remind this Government of its accountability without ultimately diminishing the impact of the message. Prioritizing the objections in a way that they can impact, calls for a strategic approach to which battles to fight and win.

    Vote
      0  
  7. Profile photo of Robert Halter Robert Halter said on

    Mr Fred Johnson. You can’t have it both ways.

    You want checks and balances within government which prevents outlandish spending? The Auditor Generals job is to monitor exactly that. In both Quebec and the rest of Canada. Not being bilingual would great hinder ones ability to do that job effectively in Quebec.

    So what are you saying? That Quebec isn’t a respected part of Canada anymore? Since when? So let me remind you. If you are going to lead us to believe you are speaking up for Canadians, its only fair you include more of us when doing so.

    And that comes from a Westerner.

    Vote
      0  
    • Profile photo of Hugh Ferguson Hugh Ferguson said on

      I sometimes wonder if the CPC is trying to antagonize Quebec with small moves like this. As a political entity, they are not exactly popular there. For the first time in our history, we have a government that has a majority without much in the way of representation from Canada’s second largest province. They may be thinking they could guarantee their majority forever if they just got rid of Quebec.
      That is fearsome because that would be the end of Canada as we know it.

      Vote
        0  
  8. Profile photo of Fred Johnson Fred Johnson said on

    I disagree.

    It seems that the nominate for AG did well enough at his previous posting to enable him to be deemd a suitable candidate for the federal position.

    That was in the province of New Brunswick.

    By the way, NB is the only official bilingual provice in our wonderful country.

    I’ll stick with my thoughts that having the most suitable candidate selected for the AG position far outweighs the window dressing of having a bilingual AG who may or may not have the credentials to do the job.

    Mr. Rae and company are grandstanding.

    This seems to be the only way that the relevant press will notice that they even exist.

    This is from a bilingual Easterner.

    Vote
      0  
  9. Profile photo of Jennifer Ross Jennifer Ross said on

    I don’t assume for a moment that the government put an ad in the paper “Wanted, Auditor General” but nevertheless if there was a written job requirement listing, and the preferred candidate did not have one of the requirements for the job, it does bring into question what the Conservative definition of “requirement” is. I have no idea how much difficulty an AG would have when reading a paper trail written in a language he can’t read, but I would think it would be substantial. And yes, of course he would have people in his office that could read it and tell him what it says, but now we would have to question if an erroneous conclusion was given because of a failure in translation rather than a failure of information. It has the potential to be messy and inconvenient at least.

    So, since you can’t vote down the appointment and you did get news coverage by walking out, I think it was a good decision. But that is on the understanding that there were written job requirements requiring candidates be bilingual. If no such written requirements exist, that’s a WHOLE other thing.

    Vote
      0  
  10. Profile photo of Fred Johnson Fred Johnson said on

    Using your example, I would expect that the AG would use the same resources at his disposal should he / she be dealing with a paper trail which came from a Chinese / Russian / Indian or Lebanese business.

    The government would be required to staff or hire people proficient in the language of which the business was conducted.

    Vote
      0  
  11. Profile photo of John  McLaughlan John McLaughlan said on

    I was proud to see the Liberal Party make a principled walk today.

    Vote
      0  
  12. Profile photo of said on

    Thank You Mr. Rae and all the liberal MPs and Senators for standing up to the ongoing tyranny.This issue speaks to a root problem ongoing with the cpc regime.And that is that rules,policies and laws are disregarded every time by this group when it gets in the way of there agenda.This auditor generals appointment plays so well with there divide and rule iron hand of doom.We either follow are laws and policies or not,simple program,and these people are accountable for there actions like we all are,and they will be held accountable in due process and time.For now it is helpful i think to realize this cpc regimes core membership are of the most unenlightened of all of us.And the more chaos that canada experiences(increasing each day obviously)the more comfortable this cpc group is,because when we are fractured beings of collectivism,chaos is the normal operating condition.

    Vote
      0  
  13. Profile photo of said on

    I was a staffer at the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (ancient history now), for which body I wrote a book-length report … a history of B and B in the federal public service. I met many Canadian heroes in my research, such as Ernest Lapointe (met virtually, as he was deceased at the time of my research) and met actually a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada who informed me that he and other francophones of his acquaintance didn’t feel at home in Ottawa, which was then very limited in its bilingual capacity)… How are francopnones, be they from Quebec, Alberta, B.C., Ontario or les Acadiens and les Brayons to feel at home if the A-G of the entire country is deaf and dumb in one of Canada’s two official languages? We may think that exclusion doesn’t matter, if we ourselves are not excluded. The A-G is not a private citizen. In his position, he is a symbol, a reflection of a bilingual country. Please don’t tell me there was no qualified francophone in New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province! I worked for years as a journalist in New Brunswick and let me assure you, bilingual persons of A-G calibre are very easy to find. In fact, the first language of many is French. Is that why the government disdained to pick a qualified candidate? And how about that job description … the new A-G said he never saw it. Was the position ever posted? The appointment is an insult to Canada. We need not all be bilingual, but we can be served in the language of our choice, given the numbers. As any francophone can tell you, the situation is not perfect. But why make it worse, by this blatant display of contempt for the francophone Canadian? Vive les Canadiens, francophone, anglophone et allophone.

    Vote
      0  
  14. Profile photo of Robert Halter Robert Halter said on

    Mr Fred Johnson with all due respect. I still feel you are missing the point.

    Though it was a good many years ago and perhaps in the last twenty years, a large number of French only speaking people learned how to read write and speak English, when I was a purchaser for a fairly large lumber retailer. I often had to purchase supplies from fairly large Quebec manufacturers. There were days that I had to spend a great deal of time on the phone talking to a half a dozen or more people before I was able to speak to someone who could converse in English well enough to conduct business with one another. Had I been bilingual I could have been much more effective at preforming my responsibilities. However I wasn’t and even if I had had an interrupter like the person on the other end of the phone had to find to communicate with me. Who knows how much this situation cost my employers. I tracked over a period of 6 months, because it was my job to do so, that in fact I had purchased over 23 million dollars of materials. Perhaps only 15% of that was from Quebec, but that’s still handsome sum of money.

    My point is this. If the position of being a buyer in English speaking Canada could be compromised by not being able to communicate fluently enough to get the best deal available. How much could be compromised by someone who’s job it was to get to the bottom of things regarding expenditures of politicians. Like the Auditor General of Canada.

    The Auditor General of Canada has a job to do that’s probably more crucial than that of the Prime Minister of this Country. Because it’s their job to informs us voters and tax payers, whether or not the Government of the day is on the level. Who knows how much that job may be compromised by someone who can’t speak French as well as English?

    If there’s still anyone out there who thinks being bilingual shouldn’t be an imperative prerequisite for the position of Auditor General of Canada. Then let me be crystal clear. What about the Liberal Ad Scandal.

    Vote
      0  
  15. Profile photo of Paul Goutiere Paul Goutiere said on

    I also support the Liberal Caucus for boycotting this vote. It seems a slap in the face to Quebec for their impertinence to place the NDP as official opposition.

    I must say however that the Liberal Party of Canada must be prepared to take a harder and more vocal stand on issues than they have so far. And we have to ask “Where the Hell are they?”

    The Liberal Party of Canada, by choosing Michael Ignatieff, gave us a Harper Majority. As much as I admire Mr. Ignatieff he most certainly was not the leader Canada wanted and the last bloody election proved this point.

    Bob Rae isn’t the Man either. Bless his heart, he’s a good man, but not the one to make a Phoenix from the ashes of our beloved Liberal Party. Not from what we have seen so far.

    Why can’t we discuss a leader instead of gloating over a decision to walk out of the AG vote. This is little stuff.

    Vote
      0  
  16. Profile photo of Fred Johnson Fred Johnson said on

    It seems that the next AG has been approved by the outgoing AG, Ms. Fraser.

    The duty of the AG is to protect the interests of the Canadian taxpayer. It’s very plain and simple.

    Using an analogy of a previous poster, my doubt is that person to person contact between the AG and the vendors of Quebec goods will be minimal. Staffers do that job and report to the AG who then produces reports and make recommendations to protect the taxpayer.

    The “storming out” of the liberal caucus today was nothing more than optics.

    The Canadian public will be much better served by a serious candidate who will carry on the hard hitting precedence which Ms. Fraser has shown during her term.

    Mr. Rae and his followers can wrap themselves in their bilingual cocoon and self congratulate each other until the cows come home.

    The truth is, people want results and with the endorsement of Ms. Fraser as well as the previous experience of the next AG, this pathetic stunt by Mr. Rae and his caucus truly shows how out of touch the liberal party truly is with the current feeling of the electorate.

    May 02 was a watershed moment in this country which showed that the Canadian public is tired of the fluff which we have seen and true governance is now being demanded. The liberal tactic of walking out of votes has run its course and obviously is a tactic of which the taxpayers have become very tired

    If this is the best which Mr. Rae and his 33 caucus members can muster, it is going to be a very long 4 years for the faithful followers of Mr. Rae.

    This is the best candidate for the job. Let him do it without the grandstanding of the political rump of the former mighty liberal party.

    My question has yet to be answered.

    Since Mr. Rae decided to withdraw the services in parliament today, those same services which the Canadian taxpayer rewards him very well with a 6 figure paycheck and an indexed pension, will the current 34 members of the liberal caucus be docked pay for their tantrum?

    Vote
      0  
    • Profile photo of Hugh Ferguson Hugh Ferguson said on

      My question has yet to be answered.

      Since Mr. Rae decided to withdraw the services in parliament today, those same services which the Canadian taxpayer rewards him very well with a 6 figure paycheck and an indexed pension, will the current 34 members of the liberal caucus be docked pay for their tantrum?

      Short answer, no. As has already been pointed out, they didn’t skip work that day, they arrived in the HoC and boycotted that particular vote. The LPC MPs were representing the constituents who voted for them by taking this stance. The duties of MPs go beyond merely showing up for a vote which they will lose. Had this been a minority parliament, boycotting this vote would have been senseless.

      And for the record, whether this is a legitimate political protest or a “tantrum” as you put it depends on whether you think that holding the government to account for breaking its own rules is important. Obviously you think that it isn’t. If the majority of Canadians think that it isn’t either, then we as a democracy are in serious trouble.

      Vote
        0  
  17. Profile photo of Wayne Inkster Wayne Inkster said on

    If I felt the same way as Fred Johnson about the state of the LPC, I certainly wouldn`t waste my time on their website.

    Vote
      0  
    • Profile photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace said on

      I think we will see more of the type of comments made by Fred Johnson. It indicates that Liberal success with the rebuilding process is getting someones attention.

      Vote
        0  
  18. Profile photo of jacques lee jacques lee said on

    I support the Liberal Caucus for boycotting this vote,every goverment should obey law,and harper should respect quebecois,how can he Ignore quebec and french,every goverment should obey law,and harper shoule respect quebecois,canada is not own by his,canada belong to all of the canadian and quebecois,Obviously he doesn’t like quebec,because quebecois don’t vote for him,i hope he can accept liberal party’opinion,and choose a new canadiat who can speak both english and french,this is for all of the canadian and quebecois

    Vote
      0  
  19. Profile photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace said on

    It would appear that the Consrvatives are more concerned about the Liberal Party of Canada than they like to admit.

    Vote
      0  
  20. Profile photo of Fred Johnson Fred Johnson said on

    The rebuilding process, just how well is that going?

    After the swords were drawn on May 3 and the previous leader was dispatched, wasn’t there supposed to be a process to elect another leaser for the liberal party within a finite time?

    The current watch has deemed it appropriate to ignore the liberal party constitution whereas a new leader should have been elected by now.

    The previous example could be followed whereas the next messiah could just be appointed, but like walking out of votes on the hill, that tactic is also becoming somewhat stale.

    Enough of the liberal navel gazing and back to the original topic.

    If Ms. Fraser thinks this new candidate is the most suitable candidate for the new AG position and the nominee has indicated his intention to become proficient in the other official language of this country, shouldn’t this be enough for the members of the liberal party to stay in the house and do the job which a few Canadians elected them to perform?

    My MP skipped work.

    We have contact every so often and next time he will be confronted with the fact that he seems to want to be paid when he is not doing his job that some misguided individuals sent him to perform.

    Vote
      0  
    • Profile photo of Hugh Ferguson Hugh Ferguson said on

      To your points about rebuilding and the choosing of a leader, how the Liberal party chooses a leader is the business of the Liberal Party and its members. If the party chooses to take time before choosing a permanent leader, that is the party’s prerogative.

      To your question about whether the outgoing AG believes the current candidate is the best one, frankly we don’t know. What is not reported in the press is whether or not the outgoing AG was the final chooser of a candidate or if she merely indicates of the *one* candidate that Harper presented, he will do.
      Therefore we don’t know that Sheila Fraser thinks that Michael Ferguson is the *best* candidate for the job, or whether she approved him because he was the only candidate whose file crossed her desk.

      We as Canadians have every reason to be suspicious of the Prime Minister’s choice of AG because his past actions have shown utter contempt for the officers of parliament, of watchdogs, of public servants, and frankly of any office that is a part of the public service, but supposed to be arms length from the government of the day.

      Vote
        0  
    • Profile photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace said on

      The rebuilding process is going great thanks. It might be noted that Bob Rae didn’t shut down parliament and take a holiday rather than lose a vote.

      Vote
        0  
  21. Profile photo of Fred Johnson Fred Johnson said on

    With a staggering 34 members in the caucus I believe that Mr. Rae would have had somewhat of an issue in shutting down the house. Walking out is the only recourse available and they seem very proficient at that maneuver. Likewise for the previous 2 elected liberal caucuses. That is what happens when you are relegated to sitting on the “other” side of the chamber.

    It seems that the liberal party’s (provincial and federal) didn’t seem to have an issue when Mr. McGuinty used the same tactic in Ontario a few months ago. The left of centre press also seemed to make little issue of the same process, at least on the provincial side.

    Vote
      0  
  22. Profile photo of André Brisebois André Brisebois said on

    Hello Fred,

    The boycott was in response to the government’s illegitimate appointment of the AG. Participating in the “no” vote would have legitimized the process. It bears mention that the MPs and Senators showed up, sat in their seat and THEN walked out in protest. They did not withdraw their services or skip work, they were making a point.

    I think most will agree that the Liberal caucus performed their duty honorably, by putting the spotlight squarely on the government’s flawed process. As you seem to be very passionate about Canadian politics, I encourage you to join the community forum on this website where you can discuss a wide variety of topics with other liberals from across the country. http://www.liberal.ca/groups/canada/

    Vote
      0  
    • Profile photo of said on

      I agree with André — it was correctly done and very effective in expressing vigorous and profound disagreement.

      Vote
        0  
  23. Profile photo of Kenneth Henderson Kenneth Henderson said on

    The key issue here, to me, is the discrepency between what were, as I understand it, the requirements of the position, and the criteria the government seems to be now stating. If capacity in both official languages was cited as a requirement of the position rather than as an “asset”, at whatever point in the process this was set aside, re- advertisement should have taken place. What way is there now to identify the highly qualified unilingual (in either language)candidates who, rightly under the circumstances, disqualified themselves from the process? The vote was illegimate and the caucus was right not to take part.

    Vote
      0  
  24. Profile photo of said on

    I think Jim Wallace is correct … we seem to be making some waves, despite our small numbers. I wonder why our standing up for principle meets with such deep displeasure …

    Vote
      0  

Join the conversation