Harper organizer appointed to the
[PoliticsWatch posted 5:00 p.m. June 28, 2006]
A key New Brunswick organizer for the prime minister and the
Conservative party was among those given judicial appointments by
the Conservative government this week.
Richard Bell was a New Brunswick campaign co-chair for Prime
Minister Stephen Harper's 2004 Conservative party leadership
race and was a co-chair in New Brunswick for Conservatives in the 2004
and 2006 federal election campaigns.
Bell made headlines in New Brunswick during the 2006 campaign when
he denied a claim made by former Tory MP Elsie Wayne that the
Conservative party was against same-sex marriage.
The appointment of Bell to the Court of Queen's Bench in New
Brunswick comes just over a year after Harper and Justice Minister Vic
Toews were calling for an investigation into allegations of
political favouritism in the appointment of judges by the former
At the height of the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal, Benoit
Corbeil, a former president of the Quebec wing of the Liberal
party, alleged in a number of media interviews that as many as eight
Quebec lawyers who volunteered for the Liberals during election
campaigns were later named to the bench.
"Anyone who wanted to be a judge or win mandates needed to have friendly relations with those people,"
Corbeil told Radio-Canada last April.
Corbeil's allegations about the selection of judges was never
investigated further by the Gomery inquiry because it went beyond
the scope of Gomery's terms of reference.
However, that did not stop Harper and Toews, who was the opposition
justice critic at the time, from calling for an investigation into
In question period last May, Harper said Corbeil had "revealed that the Liberal Party of Canada has corrupted the system of nominating, vetting and appointing judges."
He accused former prime minister Paul Martin of doing "absolutely nothing in terms of reacting."
At the time, Toews said Corbeil's allegations placed a "dark cloud over the Canadian
judiciary" and accused the Liberals of paying off campaign
He called for the then justice minister Irwin Cotler to
investigate the judicial appointments process.
"It is an issue that does need to be explored because this is now . . . casting a cloud over our judiciary. This matter either needs to be investigated by the RCMP or by the judicial council in the province of Quebec."
Corbeil's allegations set off investigations by bloggers and some
reporters linking campaign contributions and judicial
Toews later called for an investigation into the entire judicial
appointment system after a Montreal Gazette investigation found that
nearly 60 per cent of Quebec lawyers who were appointed as judges
since the 2000 election had contributed money to the Liberals in
years leading up to their appointments.
"This isn't simply a freakish coincidence," Toews said at the
Federally appointed judges are first vetted through a federal
judiciary advisory committee, but once they pass that hurdle the
final decision to whittle down the nominees rests with the justice
Since coming into power earlier this year, the Conservatives have
made reforms to make the appointment of Supreme Court justices more
transparent, but have not made changes yet to the appointment of
other judges, even though they were critical of the process while in
Mike Storeshaw, a spokesperson for Toews, said reforming
judicial appointments is a "big process with a lot of
He defended the selection of Bell to the bench, and noted his nearly
30 years experience as a lawyer.
"We're going to continue to put qualified people with a strong
legal background on the bench," said Storeshaw, who stressed
the appointment had nothing to do with politics.
"Political affiliation is not a disqualification, but legal
excellence and a strong legal background is going to be key and
Richard Bell certainly has that."
Bell is bilingual, has over 25 years experience in labour law and
litigation, and has even tried cases before the Supreme Court.
He is currently a partner at the law firm McInnes Cooper, the same
firm former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna practised at
before becoming Canada's ambassador to the U.S.
The New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal reported that even Bell's
political adversaries praised the appointment.
Greg Byrne, president of the New Brunswick Liberal Party
president, told the paper that Bell was "well qualified"
for the court.
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