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Headhunting firms confirm PMO and Cabinet staff on all good government watchdog selection committees

Proves that Cabinet appointment process is political and partisan – Liberals claim that process is merit-based is clearly false

Last March, Liberals had qualified candidates to replace lapdog Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson last March but, likely before Trudeau recused himself, decided to reappoint her

10,000+ call on Liberals to make changes to match Ontario’s and Britain’s world-leading appointment processes

Thursday, November 16, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch revealed that it has confirmed that staff from Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and responsible ministers sit on the selection committees for all the key good government watchdogs.  The committees, not the firms, do all the screening and interviews of candidates from the long lists sent to them by the firms.  Democracy Watch confirmed that this is the process in conversations with people at the headhunting firms hired by the Trudeau Cabinet to help with the search.

This confirms that despite their claim that their new Cabinet appointment process is merit-based, the Liberals are in fact using a political, partisan process to search for replacements for the following five key good government watchdogs: Chief Electoral Officer (CEO); Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner; Information Commissioner; Lobbying Commissioner; RCMP Commissioner, and also for the Official Languages Commissioner.  Boyden Canada is providing administrative assistance for all the searches except for the search for the CEO which is being handled by Odgers Berndtson.

These watchdog positions are as important as Supreme Court justices in terms of ensuring democratic good government.  In contrast to the completely political process the Liberals are using to come up with the short list of candidates for the watchdog positions, the short list of candidates for justices is developed by a seven-member advisory committee, four of whom are appointed by non-governmental organizations.  Although the other three members of the advisory committee are appointed by the Minister of Justice, and the Trudeau Cabinet is not required to choose from the short list of candidates that the committee proposes, at least the PMO and ministers’ offices don’t have representatives on the committee.

Ideally, as Democracy Watch is calling for in its Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign, the government would establish two fully independent committees, one for judicial and quasi-judicial appointments, and one for other Cabinet appointments. The members for both committees would come from non-government organizations, and would serve fixed, non-renewable terms.

The committees would conduct public, merit-based searches and develop a short list of qualified candidates for each open position, and then the Cabinet would be required to choose from the short list (even better with opposition party leader approval for some of the key watchdog positions). Ontario has a committee like this to appoint provincial court judges, and Britain has such a committee to appoint judges and administrative tribunal members.

“The Trudeau government has claimed again and again that it has changed the Cabinet appointment process to make it merit-based but, in fact, representatives from the PMO and ministers’ offices are making the decisions which means the process is as political and partisan as in past governments,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Part-time Professor of law and political science at the University of Ottawa.  “It is very dangerous to our democracy that the Prime Minister and Cabinet can dictate who will be the government’s transparency and ethics watchdogs, and also the watchdogs for lobbying, elections and overall federal law enforcement, including enforcement of anti-corruption measures.”

“To make Cabinet appointments actually merit-based, the Trudeau Liberals must match what Ontario and Britain have done by changing the law to establish fully independent committees to find a short list of qualified candidates for each watchdog position, and require the Cabinet to choose from the short list,” said Conacher.

The revelation about the PMO and ministers’ office having representatives on the selection committees only adds to the evidence that the Trudeau Cabinet is seeking lapdogs instead of watchdogs for these key democratic good government positions.

As Democracy Watch revealed last week, he Trudeau government’s affidavit responding to one of the court cases Democracy Watch filed in July admits that the Liberals had a “pool of qualified candidates” for the Ethics Commissioner position last winter.  According to the affidavit, instead of consulting with opposition party leaders and nominating one of the qualified candidates for House of Commons approval for a seven-year term (as required under the Parliament of Canada Act), , the Liberals decided “in early April 2017” to reappoint existing Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson for a third six-month interim term and to keep the search process open for the new Ethics Commissioner.

These decisions in April precede Trudeau’s move in mid-May to recuse himself from the appointment process for the new Ethics Commissioner.  This raises the question of whether Trudeau took part in these decisions.  Given that Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawon is currently investigating not only Trudeau but also Finance Minister Bill Morneau, it is also important to know whether Morneau participated in the decision to reappoint her.

“The Trudeau Cabinet’s decision last spring to rehire lapdog Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson while she was investigating Trudeau smells as unethically bad as Trump’s decision to fire watchdog FBI head James Comey while he was investigating Trump,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.  “The Trudeau Cabinet handed a $100,000 contract to the person judging whether Trudeau and other ministers violated a federal law, and that is clearly unethical and also puts the Ethics Commissioner in a conflict of interest that makes her biased in favour of Trudeau and his ministers.”

Democracy Watch’s position is also that the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner are both currently in a conflict of interest when investigating anything concerning the Trudeau Cabinet, given that they essentially serving at the pleasure of the Cabinet on six-month renewable contracts.  Democracy Watch has repeatedly requested that the Ethics Commissioner recuse herself and that the Lobbying Commissioner recuse herself from ruling on complaints about Cabinet ministers and other Liberals, but they have refused to do so.

Most recently, Democracy Watch requested that the Ethics Commissioner recuse herself from investigating complaints concerning Finance Minister Morneau but the Ethics Commissioner has refused and so Democracy Watch will soon file a court case challenging her bias and incorrect rulings concerning ministers’ investments.  Democracy Watch is also challenging the Ethics Commissioner’s illegal ethics screens in court because they cover up whether ministers are stepping aside because of conflicts of interest.

Democracy Watch also called on the Trudeau Cabinet to end their conflict-ridden charade and ensure that Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd are replaced before January when their current six-month contracts end.  “In the past decade, the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner have been negligently weak lapdogs whose bad rulings have let many politicians off the hook for clear violations, and the sooner they are gone the better,” said Conacher.

In past news releases, Conacher has revealed that, to test the integrity of the Trudeau Cabinet’s appointment process, he has applied for both the positions of Lobbying Commissioner and Information Commissioner.  Despite being fully qualified for both positions, he has not been contacted by the selection committees for either position.  As was revealed by the fiasco that occurred last spring with the government’s attempted appointment of a new Languages Commissioner, Democracy Watch believes that many qualified people have applied for all the watchdog positions but are being ignored by the Trudeau Cabinet because they would actually be watchdogs, not the lapdogs that the Cabinet wants.

More than 10,000 Canadians have signed Democracy Watch’s Stop Political Lapdog Appointments petition on The petition calls on the federal Liberals to make the Cabinet appointment process actually independent and merit-based (as Britain has) for appointments of all judges, officers of parliament, and members of agencies, boards, commissions and tribunals. The petition was launched as part of Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign.

The Liberals haven’t changed the federal Cabinet appointment process at all from what the Conservatives used (other than adding the goal of diversity). In the answer to the third question in the “Frequently Asked Questions” document describing the Liberals’ Cabinet appointment process (which was updated on April 28th), it says Cabinet ministers “manage” all appointment processes.

That means Cabinet appointments are still partisan, political processes, not merit-based as the Liberals claim (as the recent appointment of former Ontario Liberal Cabinet minister Madeleine Meilleur as the federal Languages Commissioner has revealed so clearly). And the government’s website listing openings and qualifications for Cabinet appointments that the Liberals claim makes the appointment process more open and transparent has existed for several years.

As well, the Liberals have made the very questionable claim that they can’t find anyone qualified to be the next Lobbying Commissioner or next Ethics Commissioner.

“The Liberals’ false claims smell very fishy and are clearly an attempt to cover up the fact that their Cabinet appointment system is essentially the same as the Harper Conservatives used, and that it’s still political and partisan, not merit-based, and allows Trudeau Cabinet ministers to choose their own Liberal Party cronies as government and law enforcement lapdogs,” said Conacher.

“The Trudeau Cabinet is in a conflict of interest when choosing any government or law enforcement watchdog because those watchdogs enforce laws that apply to Cabinet ministers or their departments,” said Conacher. “The only way to stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for judges and watchdogs is to establish a fully independent public appointment commission, as Ontario and Britain have, to conduct public, merit-based searches for nominees and send a short list to Cabinet, with Cabinet required to choose from the list.”

The independent commission, whose members are approved by all federal party leaders (and entities such as the Canadian Judicial Council) should be mandated to do a public, non-partisan merit-based search for candidates, and the Trudeau Cabinet should be required to choose appointees from a short-list of one to three candidates that the commission nominates.

Ontario uses this kind of independent appointment system to appoint provincial judges (the advisory committee provides a shortlist of three candidates to the Cabinet). Britain uses it to appoint judges and judicial tribunal members (like the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner are) – its advisory committee provides only one candidate to the Cabinet, and the Cabinet has to accept the candidate or reject the candidate and provide written reasons. Both of their systems are considered to be world leading.

The new appointment process, and prohibition on being reappointed, should apply to the judicial advisory committees and appointments of all 1,123 federal and provincial superior court judicial appointments listed here, and to the new public appointments commission that must be established to ensure a merit-based selection process for a short list of candidates for appointment to the 32 federal administrative tribunals and 108 agencies/boards listed here.

Democracy Watch also called on the Liberals, and all governments, to change the law to ensure all Cabinet appointees who watch over the government or oversee key democracy laws and processes (especially every Officer of Parliament) serve only one term.

“Like judges, all government and democracy watchdogs must only serve one term, with no possibility that the government can reappoint them, to ensure watchdogs don’t try to please the government in order to keep their job,” said Conacher. “To safeguard our democracy the ruling party must not be allowed to reappoint any government watchdog.”

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign