WATCH: NDP MP has spat with Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson over his French speaking skills.
OTTAWA — In a surprise move, newly-minted Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson rose during question period and … answered a question in French.
“I would like to thank the prime minister for my nomination. It is a great honour,” Nicholson said in French, thick with an English accent, as the applause from his Conservative colleagues swelled and they rose to their feet.
No, it’s not usually newsworthy when a cabinet minister, and veteran federal politician, speaks in both official languages. But Nicholson has been a source of ire for some francophone groups unhappy with the fact Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed a” unilingual anglophone” to the foreign affairs file.
Shortly after the appointment, the Bloc Quebecois issued a release admonishing the Conservatives, saying the government was adding insult to injury in appointing a unilingual anglophone.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard last week also voiced his displeasure with the situation, telling reporters in Quebec a bilingual country like Canada should have a foreign minister who can at least speak a few words in French.
Couillard’s international relations minister, meanwhile, said Harper should have prioritized bilingualism when selecting John Baird’s successor.
The question in the House Monday came from New Democrat MP Hélène Laverdière who asked whether the prime minister was actually unable to find a bilingual candidate.
“Canada is a bilingual country and French is an important language in international diplomacy,” she said. “We cannot understand how the prime minister could have appointed a minister of foreign affairs who cannot speak French.”
That was when Nicholson rose and, glancing only briefly toward notes on his desk, delivered a response in French.
“We have two official languages. I speak English,” he said. “As for French, I don’t speak it that well yet but I understand a lot, and I will continue to make efforts.”
*With a file from The Canadian Press