Ontario has appointed its first ever francophone attorney general, following a cabinet reshuffle yesterday afternoon.
Former minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Madeleine Meilleur has replaced John Gerretsen, who announced last year he would not run in the next provincial election. Gerretsen, who had been in the post since October 2011, is now chair of cabinet and a minister without portfolio.
The reshuffle was prompted after Municipal Affairs minister Linda Jeffrey resigned to run for mayor of Brampton.
In a written statement, Meilleur told Legal Feeds: “It is a great honour for me to be appointed the first francophone attorney general for Ontario. I was very happy to serve the people of this province as minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services and I am very happy to continue serving in the justice sector as attorney general.
“My predecessor . . . has always been a strong advocate for access to justice. I know that I have very big shoes to fill. I thank the premier for the confidence that she has placed in me.
“I can assure you that Premier [Kathleen] Wynne and I are committed to creating and maintaining an innovative, sustainable and responsive justice system that inspires public confidence and upholds the rule of law.”
Meilleur is a registered nurse and lawyer. She trained at Montfort School of Nursing in Ottawa, and later studied law at the University of Ottawa.
The Liberal MPP for Ottawa-Vanier specialized in labour and employment law and was involved in municipal politics before being elected to the Ontario legislature in 2003.
She will continue in her role as minister responsible for francophone affairs, with her new position potentially providing greater scope to explore access for justice issues for linguistic minorities.
Inconsistencies in the French-speaking abilities of Ontario judges have been highlighted in recent years.
A report published last year by the commissioner of official languages recommended stricter tests for assessing the language skills of superior court judges. The report’s findings stemmed in part from a survey of 373 lawyers, the biggest proportion of whom practised in Ontario.
Reaction to Meilleur’s appointment from the legal community on social media has been largely positive.
Sylvie Patenaude, a lawyer at Ottawa-based Sicotte Guilbault LLP, tweeted “Bravo!” from her @lawSylvie account, while @LawScribes called for Meilleur to look at “reforming how police & courts handle #mentalillness & #mentalhealth issues.”
Other notable changes resulting from the reshuffle:
• Yasir Naqvi has been promoted to minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services.
• Bill Mauro, MPP for Thunder Bay-Atikokan, is now minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
• Kevin Flynn, MPP for Oakville, becomes minister of Labour.
In a statement yesterday, Wynne said: “I want to thank all ministers sworn-in today for taking on these new responsibilities. I know the entire team will work together to continue to create jobs for today and tomorrow.”