Liberal government’s new public appointment process fails to improve system, says Conacher

Like many such changes, the proof will only become apparent after a few years, when over 50 percent of GiC positions have been renewed or replaced.

From my perspective, the application of the diversity and inclusion agenda to appointments, hopefully accompanied by annual reporting, will help judge whether Duff Conacher or Alex Marland are correct in their initial assessments.

My take, given my focus on diversity issues, is that we will see an increase in women, visible minorities and indigenous peoples, along with other aspects of diversity, although the “values” of appointments will be largely aligned to the Liberals, just as the previous appointee values were aligned to the Conservatives.

For the baseline of current GiC appointments, see my article, Governor in Council Appointments – 2016 Baseline, or my book, “Because it’s 2015 …” Implementing Diversity and Inclusion, available as a free download (iPad/Mac version (iBooks)Windows (PDF) Version):

“The Conservatives, for most appointments, put an ad up on that website, sometimes put an ad in a newspaper, usually had a headhunter firm, for lack of a better term, do the search for candidates … the Conservatives kept on claiming ‘we’re doing this new way of appointments,’ but the key is the headhunting firm or whoever did the search would just put a list that was a completely advisory list to cabinet and cabinet or the prime minister could choose whomever they wanted,” said Mr. Conacher.

On Feb. 25, 2016, the Liberals quietly announced a new approach to governor in council appointments, which will “apply to the majority of non-judicial appointments, and will make hundreds of part-time positions subject to a formal selection process for the first time.”

“We are committed to raising the bar on openness and transparency in government to make sure that it remains focused on serving Canadians as effectively and efficiently as possible. Government must serve the public interest, and remain accountable to Canadians,” reads a quote from Mr. Trudeau on the release (there is no corresponding event or actual in-person announcement indicated).

As indicated online, the “new approach will” require all GIC opportunities to be advertised online, as well as in the Canada Gazette, and GIC candidates will complete an online profile of their personal background (including language and identity group) in order to try to ensure diversity in appointments.

“Additional online and/or print media may be used in some cases,” reads the website. “Each rigorous selection process will be based on advertised selection criteria developed for the position, and assessment of candidates against the criteria,” it reads, adding this assessment is then provided to the minister responsible.

Members of these selection committee “will be chosen to represent the interests of those who are responsible for decision-making on appointments (the minister, the prime minister), as well as individuals who bring a perspective on the specific interests and needs of the organization,” reads the frequently asked questions section.

The February release indicates this “will be” the new process for GIC appointments, and “the Governor in Council appointment process does not require the approval of Parliament,” said PMO press secretary Cameron Ahmad, when asked what’s required to formalize the new process posted online.

“The process is currently being implemented and applies to Governor in Council appointments. It was made public in February,” he said, adding “the Privy Council Office supports the prime minister with respect to governor in council appointments” when asked which department drafted the new process.

The Liberal government’s new “rigorous approach to appointments is based on the principals of open, transparent and merit-based selection processes that will support ministers in making appointment recommendations for positions in their portfolio,” said Mr. Ahmad, when asked why ultimate discretion to recommend to the GG lies with cabinet and the PM.

“The new approach raises the bar on openness and transparency in government and supports accountability to Canadians,” his response continued.

Mr. Conacher said the Liberal government’s new GIC process is ultimately “no different than what the Conservatives did,” and by allowing ministers or the PM to ignore selection committee recommendations it’s “maintained the patronage crony system.” He said he thinks the Liberals are reluctant to fully take decisions out of the hands of government because “the Liberals have a whole bunch of people who volunteered for 10 years while they lost three elections and some of those people want a reward.”

“This is one of the greatest areas of cabinet power,” said Mr. Conacher.

Mr. Conacher said instead, there should be a new process introduced federally similar to Ontario’s judicial appointments committee which has 13 members, six of whom are members of the public—though he said the “flaw” is seven members are from the ruling party. Mr. Conacher said with a minority of members from the ruling party and a majority from opposition parties, or require membership to be approved by all House leaders. This committee would “come up with a short list” of candidates and then cabinet would “have to choose from the short list.”

As well, he said all positions should be advertised widely online, including on popular public job sites (like Monster Jobs, for example).

Alex Marland, associate professor of politics at Memorial University, said if the “composition of the group of people making the [GIC appointment] recommendations have deep Liberal connections” it’s hard to “put a lot of faith that this is any more than window dressing.” But he also said he doesn’t worry about cabinet or the PM having discretion over such appointments.

“I actually think that’s necessary, because ultimately cabinet is accountable to Parliament, and ultimately cabinet has to run the government, so how could the government function if somebody is being recommended to a position and cabinet is bound to appoint someone who they realize the can’t possibly work with or who will undermine what they’re trying to do,” said Prof. Marland.

Prof. Marland said more transparency is good, and the fact that the process is publicly available “does reduce the possibility” for cronyism and at the end of the day, “you have to trust that these groups take their jobs seriously and will actually make recommendations that they believe are the right ones.”

The Liberals have also committed to review the judicial appointment process and in an email response to questions from The Hill Times, including on timing, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she “will work with interested stakeholders, including the judiciary, and Canadians on these appointments.”

“In the interim, our Government is moving forward on measures that will facilitate appointments to fill highly pressing judicial vacancies as soon as possible,” reads her response. There are currently about 46 vacant seats on the benches of federally appointed superior courts across Canada.

As well, back in December, the Liberals announced the creation of a new Senate appointment process with the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments.

Source: Liberal government’s new public appointment process fails to improve system, says Conacher |

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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