03/30/2016 13:32 EDT | Updated 03/31/2017 01:12 EDT

Federal government extends terms of departing social security tribunal members

OTTAWA — The federal government has moved to avoid a renewed backlog of cases before the social security tribunal by extending the terms of 15 of its members.

The Liberal government made the decision quietly last week, a day after it released its first budget.

The 15 members had terms that either expired in March, or were set to run out in April or May.

Mathieu Filion, a spokesman for Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, says each member was renewed for one year.

The number of members at the tribunal was, until the re-appointments, set to drop by 46 this year, with the first big loss coming between March and May.

The largest loss is scheduled for October, when 20 more terms expire.

The head of the tribunal warned Duclos in November 2015 that her organization could face a new backlog of cases without its full complement of 96 members.

Briefing material provided to Duclos suggested some of those members could be appointed to another term; others, however, who didn't meet performance expectations, were going to be let go.

In February, the Liberals announced an overhaul of its entire appointments process in a bid to make it more transparent and eliminate the perception that political connections were more important than professional qualifications.

In the interim, new appointments were put on hold.

The only exceptions were for positions the government deemed "essential," or that helped "deliver important services to Canadians," the government said. In those cases, the government would appoint or re-appoint an individual for up to one year.

Full-time social security tribunal members normally serve terms of up to five years and part-time members are appointed for up to two years.

Further nominations to the tribunal will be made in the coming weeks to increase the number of members, Filion said.

The Canadian Press