Politics

Trudeau needs a 'serious' reason to reject Quebec's Supreme Court pick, minister warns

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could reject Quebec's forthcoming recommendation for Canada's next Supreme Court justice, says Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel — but he'd risk a heavy political backlash by doing so.

'He agreed to that process' - Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel

Quebec's Justice Minister Sonia LeBel speaks during a news conference in Montreal, Tuesday, February 21, 2017. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could reject Quebec's forthcoming recommendation for Canada's next Supreme Court justice, says Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel — but he'd risk a heavy political backlash by doing so.

"He's not bound, per se, but he agreed to that process," LeBel told CBC Radio's The House. "If he has to pass [on] this recommendation, he will have to have a very serious motive."

The federal government recently launched a process to let Quebec play a larger role in selecting the next Supreme Court judge from that province — a position due to be vacated by retiring justice Clément Gascon in September. An independent advisory board made up of eight non-partisan members will draw up a short list of three to five names for the position.

LeBel, who nominated two of the committee's members, is also expected to consult on the list with Quebec Premier François Legault, who will select a top pick for the prime minister's consideration.

"If he decides not to go with Quebec's recommendation, we can expect there will be a political reaction," LeBel's office said in an emailed statement. "He therefore would have to explain the reasons for his choice."

The Liberal government is hoping to fill the spot before October's federal election — meaning Trudeau could risk alienating Quebec voters if he decides to go against the process.

It's not clear what circumstances might prompt Trudeau to go with another choice, though it's possible he could opt for a candidate recommended by the federal justice minister instead. But it's more likely that he would make a decision based on the short list, LeBel's office said.

If the prime minister should choose someone else, the Quebec government could express its dissatisfaction with the decision, but would not be able to overturn it.

Three of the nine spots on the country's top bench are reserved for Quebec judges because of the province's unique civil law. The new selection process marks the first time the Quebec government would be given a significant role in the appointment of a judge on Canada's highest court – an opportunity other provinces are not afforded.

"Our specificity in law is unique," LeBel told The House host Chris Hall. "The other provinces do not have this specificity."

While the advisory board's members are expected to be non-partisan, they are still appointed by Quebec's government. LeBel dismissed concerns that political motivations could emerge as the list of potential Supreme Court justices is whittled down, saying that the same could be said for any other partisan involvement in the appointments process.

"If it's only the federal prime minister from Canada who decides, it could be bound by his political agenda," she said, adding that those on the advisory board come from all walks of civil society.

"I'm very confident they will do what's best for Quebec and not what's best for a political party in particular."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.