A news site connected to the Broadbent Institute is raising questions about why six of the nine judges appointed to Nova Scotia courts since October 2013 have personal, professional or political connections to Justice Minister Peter MacKay.
MacKay was appointed attorney general and justice minister in 2013. Since then, he's made provincial Supreme Court justices of:
- Josh Arnold, a friend who served as best man at MacKay's 2012 wedding. He was also a regular financial donor to the Central Nova Progressive Conservative Association from 2008 to 2010.
- Cindy Cormier, Arnold's wife and a friend of MacKay's.
- James Chipman, a past president of the Conservative Party's Halifax West riding association and regular donor to the Central Nova Conservative Association from 2008 to 2010.
- Ted Scanlan, a past president of the Central Nova riding association and a former campaign manager for Elmer MacKay, Peter MacKay's father.
- Jeffrey Hunt, former executive vice-president of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Association.
- LouAnn Chiasson, a colleague of MacKay's at the Dalhousie Law School.
MacKay has held the Central Nova seat for the Conservatives since 1997.
Press Progress, a news blog project of the Broadbent Institute, posted its findings on its website. The Broadbent Institute is named for former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.
CBC News asked MacKay's office about the appointments.
"In the case of lawyers applying to be judges, committees assess them, provide comments, and also recommend them or not for appointment. The minister of justice only appoints those recommended by such committees," a spokesperson replied.
Connections vs. expertise
Professor Wayne MacKay, a Dalhousie University constitutional law expert, has published a paper about the impact of recent changes on judicial appointments. He said they were designed to ease concerns too many judges were being appointed based on their connections, rather than their expertise in the law.
"We've generally moved away from the strict party politics more to concerns about ideology," noted Wayne MacKay. "But I suppose the optics of some appointments still raise questions of politics, as well."
Lawyers with 10 years of experience can become a Supreme Court judge. In Nova Scotia, that means about 1,200 lawyers are eligible for the job, which pays about $300,000 annually.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government changed the rules for appointing judges.
Formerly, the justice minister received a list of names marked "not recommended," "recommended," or "highly recommended." Now, they are marked simply as "recommended," or "not recommended."
'Completely' at minister's discretion
Wayne MacKay said under the old system, most judicial appointments were made from the "highly recommended" pool.
"The 'highly recommended' category was dropped altogether, so now there is just two: 'recommended' or not," the professor said.
"Now, where it's 'recommended' only, whatever names go forward, it's then completely within the minister's discretion to appoint any of those people, even though on the ranking they might be seen as the least qualified of the group."