Appointment process not the change we were promised

Before parliament rose for summer recess, New Democrats tabled a motion to change how Canada’s federal watchdogs are appointed.  We did this because it had become clear that we need a process to ensure these important positions are filled by candidates who are independent of any political party or affiliation so they are best able to investigate and report.

Independence is vital because these are the officers that hold our federal government to account on elections, finances, ethics, lobbying and so on. They’re hired by Parliament to work for Canadians.  Sadly, the government seems to have taken the view that these watchdogs work for them. In addition to that, the Liberals have tried to use appointments to reward partisan stalwarts which could seriously jeopardize the positions they fill and tar the output of those offices.

The New Democrat motion called for the creation of an appointments committee composed of one member from each party.  This committee would review nominations before they were brought before parliament to be confirmed. Such a committee, where no party has the majority to approve nominations, ensures that appointments are nonpartisan and truly independent.

Despite promising to do things differently, this became another example of the government refusing to seize the opportunity to do that, and not one Liberal MP voted in support of the motion.

The impetus for the motion came about after the name of long-time Liberal donor and former Liberal MPP, Madeleine Meilleur, was touted as the government’s choice to serve as the next Official Languages Commissioner. Even though the Prime Minister was obligated to consult with other party leaders on the appointment, he didn’t.  The only communication was in the form of a letter announcing his decision. Ultimately Ms. Meilleur admitted that she would have an issue remaining nonpartisan and withdrew her nomination.

The bigger issue is how she came to be seen as an appropriate candidate in the first place. When they were trying to defend her nomination, Liberals glossed over her partisan background and focused on her accomplishments and credentials — even though many of those were entirely political and partisan. There is no doubt that Ms Meilleur is an accomplished politician who has served her constituents well enough to be re-elected time and again, but the inability of the government to see her nomination as partisan is where the flaw in this process was located.

In addition to the Official Languages debacle, the defeat of our motion makes it hard to trust that this government will not continue to make partisan appointments. That includes the positions that need to be filled on the CBC’s Board of Directors.  Although the government has announced a new consultation process it is similar to the one that was used in the Meilleur appointment.

New Democrats know that Canadians want and deserve better.  With that in mind we offered a solution to end partisan appointments but the Liberals chose to keep a broken, flawed process. It is clear that our current appointments system is not working that’s why we must continue to work to fix it.