08/02/2016 04:11 EDT | Updated 08/02/2016 04:59 EDT

New Supreme Court Appointment Process Shows Atlantic Canadian Liberals 'Failed': Tories

The so-called "red tide" that swept across Atlantic Canada in the last federal election has not convinced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the next Supreme Court justice must hail from that region.

Liberals unveiled a new, independent advisory board Tuesday that will change how top court justices are appointed.

The seven-member group, chaired by former prime minister Kim Campbell, will recommend three to five names to fill the seat of retiring Justice Thomas Cromwell of Nova Scotia.

Cromwell is the only Atlantic Canadian on the Supreme Court.

thomas cromwell

Justice Thomas Cromwell laughs as he listens to speakers during a ceremony officially welcoming him to the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa in February 2009. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

Traditionally, the court has had three members from Ontario, three from Quebec, one from British Columbia, one from the West, and one from the Maritimes. There has yet to be a justice from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Liberals have made it clear they are accepting applications from across Canada, despite the convention Cromwell's replacement should come from Atlantic Canada.

On a "frequently asked questions" backgrounder released by the justice department, the federal government acknowledges a "regional custom" exists, but says only qualified candidates — including those from Atlantic Canada — will be included on the list that will ultimately land on Trudeau's desk.

justin trudeau

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and MP Dominic LeBlanc bring a cooler of lobster onto the campaign media bus just outside Neguac, N.B., Sept. 8, 2015. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

"Applications are being accepted from across Canada in order to allow for a selection process that ensures outstanding individuals are considered for appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada," it reads.

Federal Conservatives, still smarting after they were shut out of Atlantic Canada in the 2015 election, aren't pleased.

Tory critic Rob Nicholson, a former justice minister, released a statement Tuesday pointing out that Trudeau's new process does not "guarantee" Atlantic Canadian representation on the top court.

Nicholson suggested the development reflects poorly on the Liberals elected in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island — as well as the Liberal premiers of those four provinces.

"Every single federal Member of Parliament from Atlantic Canada, and every single premier, is a Liberal, and collectively they have failed to guarantee their region's representation on the top court in the country."
— Tory justice critic Rob Nicholson

"Every single federal Member of Parliament from Atlantic Canada, and every single Premier, is a Liberal, and collectively they have failed to guarantee their region's representation on the top court in the country," Nicholson said.

"Regardless of the process he chooses, Conservatives urge the Prime Minister to adhere to the longstanding convention that at least one justice of the Supreme Court come from Atlantic Canada as he seeks to replace Justice Cromwell."

All 32 MPs in Atlantic Canada are Liberal. All four Liberal premiers received campaign help from Trudeau en route to majority governments in the region.

Tory pick was deemed unconstitutional

Trudeau pledged on the campaign trail to reform top court appointments. Former prime minister Stephen Harper saw his appointment of Quebec judge Marc Nadon overturned in 2014 after it was deemed unconstitutional, setting off a public spat with Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

"Under Stephen Harper, the all-party Supreme Court appointment process has been disrespected and degraded, culminating in the Prime Minister's unprecedented attacks on the Chief Justice," the Liberal platform reads. "We will restore dignity and respect to the relationship between government and the Supreme Court."

With files from The Canadian Press

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