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David Johnston fiasco shows need for actually independent, merit-based appointment process for all government watchdogs

Trudeau Cabinet currently handpicking Ethics Commissioner, RCMP Commissioner, Integrity Commissioner who all enforce laws that apply to Cabinet

Trudeau Cabinet’s appointments process is as partisan, Cabinet-controlled and political as past government’s processes

Monday, June 12, 2023

OTTAWA – Today, given Prime Minister Trudeau’s appointment fiasco with David Johnston, Democracy Watch called on the Trudeau Cabinet to stop its multi-year charade and establish an actually independent, merit-based appointment process for all public inquiry commissioners, and all federal democratic good government watchdogs.

The Trudeau Cabinet has, finally, shown openness to having opposition parties participate in choosing the commissioner(s) who will investigate foreign interference in Canadian politics.

However, for appointing key watchdogs who enforce key democratic good government laws that apply to the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and other top government officials, the Trudeau Cabinet has recently, after a secretive, partisan, Cabinet-controlled processes, appointed new RCMP Commissioner, and nominated a new Integrity Commissioner (who enforces the federal whistleblower protection law).

Also the Trudeau Cabinet is currently completely controlling secretive, partisan processes for handpicking the Interim Ethics Commissioner and the full-term Ethics Commissioner.

Despite promising in the 2015 federal election to change the process, the Trudeau Cabinet didn’t actually change it. Cabinet ministers still choose all inquiry commissioners, all appointment advisory committee members, and choose all watchdog appointees from the long lists of candidates that the committees provide, with little or no consultation with opposition parties.

The Federal Court of Appeal ruled unanimously in January 2020 that the Cabinet is biased when choosing watchdogs such as the Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying.

In addition to the David Johnston fiasco, past appointments by the Trudeau Cabinet have shown clearly that the appointment process is far from merit-based.

  1. Interim Ethics Commissioner Martine Richard never should have been appointed given she is the sister-in-law of Trudeau Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc, and thankfully she resigned soon after being appointed;
  2. Mario Dion, who was handpicked to be Ethics Commissioner in November 2017 by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, dishonest process, had a record of eight unethical actions in his former job as Integrity Commissioner. The Cabinet hid emails for two years that showed they had other qualified candidates for Ethics Commissioner, and lied to opposition party leaders.
  3. The Trudeau Cabinet used the same secretive, dishonest process to handpick Nancy Bélanger in late 2017 to be the Commissioner of Lobbying;
  4. Former Ontario Liberal MPP Madeleine Meilleur admitted in spring 2017 before a House Committee that when she was considering ending her political career she had talked with Trudeau’s then-senior adviser Gerald Butts, and also his Chief of Staff Katie Telford, and asked to be appointed as federal Commissioner of Official Languages. Her statement became so politically costly to the Trudeau Cabinet that she ended up withdrawing her candidacy, and;
  5. After Julie Payette resigned from her Governor General position in 2021, the Trudeau Cabinet admitted that she was not properly vetted for the position.

The Trudeau Cabinet has also handpicked, through partisan, political Cabinet-controlled processes, all of Canada’s other current democratic good government watchdogs: the Chief Electoral Officer (who was switched by the Trudeau Cabinet for secret reasons); Auditor General; Information Commissioner; Privacy Commissioner; Parliamentary Budget Officer, and; the Governor General (who plays a key role in judging whether a prorogation or snap election should be allowed, and who governs after an election).

To ensure merit-based appointments, a fully independent Appointments Commission should be established (as Prime Minister Harper promised to do back in 2006), with the Commission members approved by all parties, and then the Commission will do public, merit-based searches and submit a short list of no more than three well-qualified candidates to an all-party committee, which will make the final choice for each watchdog position.

“Like every Cabinet, the Trudeau Cabinet is in a conflict of interest when choosing inquiry commissioners and democratic good government watchdogs because those commissioners and watchdogs investigate and enforce rules that apply to Cabinet ministers and their departments,” said Conacher. “The only way to stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process is to establish a fully independent appointments commission to conduct public, merit-based searches and then send a short list of well-qualified candidates to an all-party committee which will make the final choice for each watchdog position.”

Almost 16,000 Canadians have sent a letter through Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign calling on the federal Liberals to make the Cabinet appointment process actually independent and merit-based.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign