Prime Minister Stephen Harper named two new justices from Ontario to the Supreme Court of Canada on Monday.
Justice Andromache Karakatsanis and Justice Michael Moldaver are the government's nominees to fill the two open spots at the country's highest court.
"Both Justice Karakatsanis and Justice Moldaver’s candidacies were examined through a comprehensive process," Harper said in a statement. "Madam Justice Karakatsanis and Mr. Justice Moldaver are exceptional candidates who have the skills and qualifications necessary to serve Canadians as judges of the Supreme Court of Canada."
The two judges will appear before a parliamentary committee on Oct.19 to answer questions from MPs as part of the appointment process.
"Filling the Supreme Court vacancies has been a priority for our government. I look forward to the ad hoc committee and to hearing the answers of the two nominees," Harper said.
Karakatsanis and Moldaver both currently sit on the Ontario Court of Appeal. She was appointed to that bench last year, while Moldaver has served on it since 1995.
Karakatsanis, 56, became a judge in 2002 when she was appointed to the Ontario Superior Court. She has a long background in politics in addition to her judicial career and is bilingual.
She was a senior public servant in Ontario holding a variety of positions while Conservative premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves were in power, including secretary of the Ontario Native Affairs Secretariat (1995-97), deputy attorney general (1997-2000) and clerk of the executive council and secretary of the cabinet (2000-02).
Several former Ontario cabinet members now serve in Harper's federal cabinet. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Treasury Board President Tony Clement and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird were all at Queen's Park during those years.
Moldaver, who will turn 64 in December, was called to the bar in 1973 and practised criminal law. He has taught at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and was appointed to the Supreme Court of Ontario in 1990, then to his current position on the Court of Appeal in 1995. He is the former co-chair of the Canadian Bar Association's Ontario Advocacy Symposium Committee and has worked with the National Judicial Institute helping to train new judges.
There are nine judges on the Supreme Court and three spots are always held by judges from Quebec.
Karakatsanis and Moldaver, who is not bilingual, will replace retiring Supreme Court of Canada justices Louise Charron and Ian Binnie from Ontario. Supreme Court justices earn $334,500 and must retire at age 75.
Nominees recommended by MP panel
The judges were chosen from a short list of six candidates prepared by a selection panel that included MPs from each party. The panel had been given a list of candidates that was drawn up by Harper and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who consulted with the legal community. The list of potential nominees and the panel's deliberations were kept confidential.
Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber said the panel reviewed past judgments by the candidates and consulted with prominent members of Ontario's legal community and that their decision on who should be on the short list was unanimous.
"All of the candidates we vetted are exemplary jurists," he said, describing Karakatsanis and Moldaver as "outstanding jurists."
Rathgeber said Moldaver is considered an expert in criminal law and that he will fill the hole left by Charron, who is also an expert in criminal law.
"His expertise I think will be welcome," he said.
Rathgeber said Karakatsanis was a distinguished public servant, and while she doesn't have as much experience on the bench as some of the others considered for the job, he doesn't see that as a liability.
"I don't regard that as a negative," he said. "I think her experience in government will bring good insight to the table as to the paramouncy of Parliament versus the Supreme Court's role in interpreting the legality of what Parliament does."
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler was also a member of the panel and agreed with Rathgeber about Karakatsanis's resumé. "I think the government experience that she has had will actually be helpful on the court, it's an important asset to have," he said. "After all, the court has matters before it that engage an understanding of government and government process. I think her experience in that regard will be an asset."
Cotler said her ties to Ontario's Conservative government aren't a concern. "I in no way regarded her as being a political appointment. She is very well qualified," he said.
'Nice balance' for top court
Mayo Moran, dean of the faculty of law at the University of Toronto, doesn't see Karakatsanis as a connected Conservative either.
"In fact, when I look at her history I think she's done really varied things and I would see her as someone with very broad experience, some of it happens to be with a Conservative government but I think she's got a very varied interesting background that she would bring to the court," she said.
She described Moldaver as "very, very smart" and someone who has had a long career in criminal law. "He's someone who's got strong views and isn't afraid to voice them but I think his essential quality really is he's thoughtful, he's fair, he's caring. I think he'll be a terrific addition," she said.
His criminal law background and Karakatsanis's administrative law background make a good combination, Moran said.
"I think they have a nice balance," she said.
Bilingualism an issue
In question period Monday, Bloc Quebecois MP Jean-François Fortin raised the issue of Moldaver's lack of French.
"The Supreme Court of Canada of course is the pinnacle of our judicial system and we will continue to make appointments to that body on the basis of legal excellence and merit," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson responded.
NDP MP Yvon Godin has tried to get legislation passed that would require Supreme Court judges to understand French and English without an interpreter. His private member's bill made it as far as the Senate in the last Parliament before the spring election was called and the bill died.
Following question period, Godin said it's "regrettable" that one of the two nominees doesn't understand French and laid the blame on Harper for his choices.
The NDP's Joe Comartin, however, was on the vetting panel that signed off on Moldaver as a candidate and Fortin told reporters after question period that it's unfortunate the NDP went along with it given Godin's proposed legislation.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said it's "preferable" for the judges to be bilingual, and he expects there to be questions about that when the two nominees are on Parliament Hill later in the week. He said he knows both justices personally and that they are highly intelligent and competent.
"I just don't want to see this become a politicized process, I think it's very unhealthy if that happens," Rae said in reference to the bilingualism issue.