New Brunswick

Judges bill will pass 'in its current form,' says new justice minister

New Brunswick's new justice minister opened the door to a compromise on Bill 21 Tuesday, then quickly slammed it shut again.

Denis Landry says mutually agreeable compromise with chief justice needed soon, or Bill 21 will pass as is

New Brunswick's new justice minister opened the door to a compromise on Bill 21 Tuesday, then quickly slammed it shut again.

Denis Landry, in his first full day on the job after Monday's cabinet shuffle, told Radio-Canada in a morning interview that "I like negotiating" and he wanted to see if there was room to compromise on the contentious bill.

The legislation would give the minister a veto over Court of Queen's Bench Justice David Smith's power to move justices from court to court.

Smith has called that a threat to judicial independence and has hinted he'll look at a legal challenge if the bill passes.

Landry told Radio-Canada he has sorted out other difficult situations at other departments he has run, and wanted to see "if there are things to improve or not" about the bill.

But later on Tuesday, Landry issued a written statement to clarify his position.

After being briefed on the bill, he said, he was "more than willing to speak" to Smith about the bill.

No details on 'compromise' offered

But, Landry said, that offer to compromise was limited to "some of the things [already] put forward" by Stephen Horsman, his predecessor as justice minister — proposals he said Smith had already rejected.

Landry said "unless we get to a mutually agreeable spot soon," the Liberals will pass the bill "in its current form" when the legislature sits again at the end of the month.

Landry's statement didn't specify what compromises the province had offered.

Smith said last month through his lawyer that he offered to consult the minister when he wanted to transfer a judge, and he was willing to meet and have minutes recorded of the meeting.

But he said Horsman refused to sign on to that arrangement unless he was given a veto.

Veto non-negotiable

Smith's lawyer Michael Bray released a statement on Tuesday calling Landry's comments "positive and welcomed," but added that parts of the new minister's comments needed "clarification."

Bray repeated Smith's account of his discussions with Horsman, including Horsman's insistence on keeping the veto in Bill 21.

Getting rid of the veto "was basic to the principle of judicial independence, the underlying basis of opposition to Bill 21 and was therefore not open to compromise," Bray wrote.

But Bray added that Smith realized it was the "early days" of the new cabinet and "remains open to consultation and shares Mr. Landry's hope that a resolution may be found" before the bill is passed.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.