Nfld. & Labrador

Concerns raised over Justice Robert Stack's political contributions

Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Robert Stack, head of the electoral boundary commission, made regular donations to the Progressive Conservatives in the five years before he became a Supreme Court judge.
Kelly Blidook, associate professor of political science at MUN, says even if Justice Stack happens to side with the PC members of the commission for good reasons, his motives may be questioned because of previous political donations. (CBC)

A political science professor is raising concerns about the independence of the head of a commission responsible for redrawing the provincial electoral boundaries.

Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Robert Stack made regular donations to the Progressive Conservatives in the five years before he became a Supreme Court judge.

Stack was appointed on Monday as chairperson of the commission to oversee the redistribution of electoral boundaries. He was appointed by Chief Justice Derek Green.

CBC News has learned that between 2005 and 2009, before he became a judge, Stack gave the Tories $1,091 in donations.

Kelly Blidook, associate political science professor at Memorial University, says the donations don't look good for someone who's meant to be an impartial overseer of a commission.

"When you start to see connections to political parties, I think that's a problem — I think that's a problem for all the commissions positions," he said.

"But he idea of appointing a judge is, ideally, that you're appointing somebody who's neutral, and regardless of whether he's really neutral or not really neutral, there's the appearance now that he's not," said Blidook.

Justice Robert Stack will oversee a panel in cutting eight seats from the House of Assembly and redrawing the electoral map. (CBC)
Stack will be head of the commission, which will be made up of four other members — two PCs, one Liberal and one NDP.

Blidook said his ideal solution would be a fully independent commission, without any direct party affiliations.

"Nobody's really questioning that Justice Stack has the qualifications to do what he's being asked to do, it's about whether or not there are other connections that then make it a little more questionable," he said.

"I think the problem is simply that that connection exists and it's there. Like I said, it would be very difficult to look at the decisions he makes and not ultimately say that somehow, that connection played some role."

During the five years before he became a judge, Stack didn't donate to any other political parties — but in the past he's also donated to the Liberals.

No 'blind allegiance'

Between 1996 and 2003, Stack donated $1,718 to the provincial Liberals. Since 2001, Stack's overall donations to the PCs have totalled just over $2,032.

Stack told CBC News the donations were made by his law firm on his behalf, adding that "they don't show any blind allegiance to a party," and he wasn't even aware of the amounts actually donated.

He added that he "wasn't aware we had only given to the PCs" in the last five years.

Stack said the connection doesn't have any impact on his ability to remain impartial while overseeing the commission.

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