Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid tribute to Michaëlle Jean in his speech at the opening of the summit of la Francophonie on Thursday in Armenia, even as Ottawa signalled that it will not back her bid for a second mandate at the helm of the organization of French-speaking countries.
Jean, Canada’s former governor general, is facing a tough challenge from Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo for the job of general secretary of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) at the XVII Francophonie Summit in the Armenian capital of Yerevan.
In front of the heads of state and government, gathered in Armenia’s 2,800-year-old capital, Trudeau praised the “remarkable work” done by Jean who focused on women, youth and human rights after being elected to the post in 2014.
“Michaëlle affirmed herself as an ardent defender of women, notably by asserting their right to education and fighting for their emancipation,” Trudeau told dignitaries, lauding her dedication and contagious energy.
After months of supporting her, the Canadian and Quebec governments announced earlier this week that they would rally around “consensus” candidate, Mushikiwabo. The top Rwandan diplomat also has the support of French President Emmanuel Macron and several African Union countries.
Traditionally, the selection of a secretary general is by agreement, not through a vote.
But Jean has refused to back down despite her chances of securing another term being described as slim.
Her spokesperson, Bertin Leblanc, has said consensus must be reached by the heads of state and governments behind closed doors.
According to Radio France International, the Haitian-born Jean, a former journalist, hopes to have the support of up to 18 delegations going into Friday’s vote. The French public radio service based the numbers on a final tally done in Yerevan on Tuesday.
Nod from Macron
Despite not backing her, Macron also paid homage to Jean’s fight for women’s rights.
“La Francophonie must be the space that fights for the rights of women, and I want to salute the work that was done by Michaëlle Jean, to whom I pay tribute, who strongly mobilized in this fight,” Macron said near the end of his opening remarks.
“La Francophonie must be feminist, and you were right, madame secretary general, not to give up in this fight.”
The vote to choose the next secretary general will take place Friday as the three-day summit concludes.
Trudeau is expected to attend the closed plenary session and will answer questions from the media following the closing ceremony of the summit.
Meeting with Armenian prime minister
Then in the afternoon, Trudeau will hold a tête-à-tête meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as he begins the second leg of his trip, the official bilateral visit to Armenia.
This is Trudeau’s second visit to Armenia but his first official visit as prime minister.
Trudeau told Pashinyan during a brief introductory encounter on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels in July that he visited Armenia in 1988 together with his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and has good memories of his visit.
While the two leaders have had two brief encounters – in Brussels and at the UN General Assembly in New York last month – this would be their first chance to get to know each other.
Pashinyan, a 43-year-old former newspaper editor and opposition leader, who became Armenia’s prime minister in May after leading mass street protests against the former ruling elites, has promised to uproot endemic corruption and attract foreign investment.
While wildly popular with a large segment of the Armenian population, Pashinyan is facing a legislature that is still dominated by members of the former ruling party and has to find a constitutional way to force the reluctant parliamentary majority to dissolve the parliament and call new elections.
An unlikely summit venue
While Armenia has a large and influential Diaspora community in France and a smaller but very vibrant community in the Greater Montreal Area in Quebec, it is a relative newcomer to La Francophonie, which it joined in 2004 as an observer and obtained full member status in 2012.
The summit in Yerevan comes as Armenia and France mourn the passing of French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour.
Macron who presided over Aznavour’s state funeral just before his arrival in Armenia said he had invited the 94-year-old world-famous chansonnier to participate in the summit.
Trudeau also paid tribute to Aznavour, whose music was playing throughout the Karen Demirchyan complex in Yerevan, where the summit is taking place.
The French-Armenian singer passed away on Oct. 1 and his contribution to the French language and culture was highlighted by both Trudeau and Macron.
“When I arrived in Armenia, I immediately thought of a great man I loved so much, a great lover of the French language who died last week, the incomparable Charles Aznavour,” Trudeau said.
“In the days following his death, francophones and francophiles of the world united in mourning through his work. This momentum of solidarity was perhaps the greatest tribute that could have been made to him.”
With files from The Canadian Press