Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters at a news conference in La Malbaie Quebec on June 8, 2017. (Photo: Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)The move underscores the difficulty the Trudeau government has had in finding replacements for officers of Parliament, the watchdogs who are supposed to provide independent oversight over crucial matters like federal elections, government spending, ethics, lobbying, linguistic duality and access to information. And it comes on the heels of Trudeau's botched nomination of Madeleine Meilleur, a Liberal partisan and former Ontario cabinet minister, to the post of official languages commissioner. Meilleur withdrew her nomination Wednesday after weeks of controversy over her partisan ties to the very government she was supposed to hold to account and amid opposition complaints that they weren't consulted, as legally required for an officer of Parliament.
New 'notice of opportunity' to be posted
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with the Aga Khan on Parliament Hill in May 2016. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)In addition to Dawson and Shepherd, he's extended the term of information commissioner Suzanne Legault, which was to end this month, until the end of the year. The post of chief electoral officer has been vacant for six months since Marc Mayrand retired in December. Mayrand gave advance notice last June of his intention to step down precisely because he believed "the early appointment of a successor to lead Elections Canada well ahead of the next general election (in 2019) is essential and should not be delayed." Yet, a full year later, there is still no new chief electoral officer. The official languages slot has also been vacant for six months, and is likely to remain so for some time now that Meilleur has withdrawn.
PM's vacation under microscope
"The more rigorous approach to conducting selection processes represents a significant volume of work," said Duchesne, adding that more than 14,000 applications have been received since the new process was launched last year. However, the senior government source said finding officers of Parliament has posed a particular challenge. In part, that's because the specific qualifications for each watchdog are spelled out in legislation, resulting in a pool of candidates that is "naturally quite small." Moreover, because the watchdogs tend to play highly visible, public roles — and have faced harsh criticism in some instances — the pool of candidates willing to take on the jobs is whittled down even further, the source said. NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen said he suspects the real problem is that all appointments are being decided by Trudeau's two top aides — Katie Telford and Gerald Butts — and they can only focus on one thing at a time.
'Maybe they don't want oversight'Conservative deputy ethics critic John Brassard said he believes the government has deliberately stalled filling other watchdog posts while it floated the Meilleur "trial balloon" to see if it could get away with partisan appointments to what are supposed to be independent, non-partisan positions. "Maybe they don't want oversight," Brassard said. Duff Conacher, founder of Democracy Watch, a non-partisan ethics advocacy group, echoed that suspicion. His group has repeatedly called on the government to create a truly independent appointments commission, as has been done in Britain, and is about to launch an online petition to "stop political lapdog appointments." But Conacher said he suspects the government is loath to end all cabinet involvement in appointments because too many Liberals who volunteered "for little or no reward" during 10 years in opposition "now want the reward of a cushy government job."
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