Opposition questions Liberals on backlog of more than 300 appointments

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government came under fire in question period Monday after CBC News revealed the government has accumulated a backlog of more than 300 appointments in its first year in office.

Critics demand to know when vacancies for judges, commissioners will be filled

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould says she is planning to announce judicial appointments in the 'near future.' (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government came under fire in question period Monday with opposition critics demanding to know when the Liberals will fill critical appointments to the bench and in government agencies such as the CRTC.

NDP MP Pierre Nantel zeroed in on appointments for the CRTC, which has not been able to hold a hearing on French-language music since November because it doesn't have enough French-speaking commissioners.

"The crisis, I remind you, is serious and immediate," Nantel told the House. 

The government said the appointments process is being reformed.

"We are completely devoted to putting in place a new system of appointments that will be rigorous, that will be transparent, that will be open," responded Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, not saying when the vacancies will be filled. "That is in line with all of the appointments across the government."

But it was the 60 judicial vacancies in courts across the land that drew the most opposition criticism.

"The national judicial vacancy rate has more than tripled since this government took office," charged NDP justice critic Murray Rankin. "Judicial vacancies cause the entire justice system to slow down. So when will the Liberal government take the appointment process seriously and fill these vacancies."

Conservative deputy justice critic Michael Cooper pointed to the recent decision by an Edmonton judge to stay murder charges against an accused because it had taken too long to come to trial.

"How many more cases is the minister of justice prepared to see thrown out of court before she does her job and starts appointing judges?" Cooper asked.

NDP MP Murray Rankin called on the government Monday to fill vacant judges positions across the country. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Jody Wilson-Raybould said she was mindful of the situation courts were facing across the country, noting that she appointed 15 judges earlier this year and would be announcing more appointments soon. 

"Our government is committed to a fair, relevant and accessible justice system, and I am further committed to working with the provinces and territories in a collaborative way to ensure that the many factors that lead to judicial delays are addressed, including the appointment of judges."

Backlog stretches across government

The exchange in the House of Commons came after CBC News revealed that the Trudeau government has accumulated a backlog of more than 300 appointments in its first year in office.

Almost 20 per cent of governor in council appointment positions — ranging from Crown corporations to port authorities, agencies and tribunals — are currently either vacant or occupied by people appointed by the Conservative government who remain in place although their term has expired.

Overall, 170 governor in council positions are listed as completely vacant. Another 116 are past the appointment's expiry date, but the incumbent has been allowed to remain in place until he or she is replaced or renewed.

In addition, 60 federally appointed judges' positions remain vacant, although the government filled one vacancy Monday by announcing that Newfoundland Judge Malcolm Rowe was being appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. That creates a new vacancy in Newfoundland and Labrador that will now have to filled.

In the Senate, 20 per cent of the 105 seats are sitting empty. The government has pledged to fill the 21 seats "by the end of the year."

After question period, Rankin and Cooper took the unusual step of joining forces to speak to reporters together, to underline their calls for vacancies to be filled.

"This is the not just Superior Courts, this is across the spectrum," said Rankin. "I don't understand what their holdup is. It has been a year and we have all of these vacancies on so many tribunals and courts."



Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.


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