THE BLOG
09/05/2011 03:57 EDT | Updated 11/05/2011 05:12 EDT

Why French Won't Matter for Harper's New Spokesman

Voters in Quebec wobble all over the place, so perhaps the appointment of Angelo Persichilli, as new Director of Communications, is a message to Quebec voters to make up their minds about where their future lies.

It caught everyone by surprise when Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Toronto Star columnist Angelo Persichilli to succeed Dimitri Soudas as Director of Communications in the PMO.

Surprise notwithstanding, it's difficult to think of a more appropriate choice for that role.

Persichilli came to Canada from Italy in 1975, has been active in the ethnic media (producer for Channel 47 programs), and is editor of the Italian newspaper, Corriere Canadese.

Most Canadians know of him through his weekly column in the Sunday Star, where he has been astoundingly even-handed and sensible for a Star columnist. (That's little dig folks -- don't take it too seriously).

Judging from Persichilli's view of Canada and the world through his Star column, he seems an excellent, even inspired choice as Harper's communications director.

Why not have someone who is high-profile in the ethnic community and is proven to have good judgment? At one point he was viewed as a Paul Martin Liberal, but it didn't contaminate his journalistic assessments.

Gilles Rheaume has complained to the Canadian Human Rights Commission about Persichilli's appointment, on grounds that he doesn't speak French -- one of Canada's official languages.

What nonsense. Rheaume is described as a "militant nationalist Quebecois" (read separatist) who once accused MPs of "treason" who favoured the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution.

A former president of Montreal's Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste, in 2004 he founded the League Against Francophobia Canada, which gives an idea of where this guy is coming from. The last thing Quebec needs is an organization that stirs up resentment on a phony issue.

Apparently, Harper's bilingual press sectretary Andrew Macdougall is to be deputy director of communications, so if Mr. Rheaume or his cohorts want to chat in French instead of English or Italian, fear not -- they'll be understood in Mr. Persichilli's department.

In the past, Mr. Persichilli has been gently critical of Quebec -- citing what he felt was an excess of Francophones in the federal bureaucracy, and the penchant for Quebeckers to bellyache about every slight, real and imagined.

It could be argued that Harper is fed up with trying to win seats in Quebec (even without the five Quebec seats the Tories won in the recent election, they'd have earned a majority). Greener fields beckon in the ethnic community, diverse as it is with Italian Canadians being traditionally Liberal.

Canada's sprawling ethnic community, especially in the Toronto area, is richer with more stable pickings. The Tories now have a base in Toronto, and are determined to keep and expand it. That means paying attention to ethnic voters.

Voters in Quebec wobble all over the place, so perhaps the appointment of Persichilli is a message to Quebec voters to make up their minds about where their future lies.

Regardless, Angelo Persichilli, at age 63, seems an excellent choice for an out-reaching government that wants all citizens to feel comfortable in Canada.

And since he is not (yet) fluent in the French language, it can be guaranteed that Persichilli will do whatever he can to be accommodating to Quebecois. As a decent, thoughtful man, that's his style.