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Justice minister defends graphic artists, fire fighters nominating judges 

[PoliticsWatch updated 4:45 p.m., February 12, 2007]

Tory appointments under fire.

OTTAWA  — Canada's justice minister denied Monday opposition allegations that the Conservative government has stacked committees to oversee the nomination of judges with unqualified political partisans.

A review of the appointments by the Globe and Mail published on Monday found that 16 of 33 people recently selected to the committees by the justice minister had current or past ties to the Conservative party.  

The positions are not paid, but are powerful because they recommend to the justice minister who he or she can appoint to superior court positions.

The 16 people with Tory ties include a geologist who is widely considered Prime Minister Stephen Harper's best friend, a firefighter from Nova Scotia who ran unsuccessfully for the provincial Conservatives twice, the president of a Quebec production company who is a trained graphic artist.  

"Judges don't choose firefighters and firefighters don't choose judges," Bloc MP Real Menard said in question period. "That's how it should work.

"Is it patronage or a simple chance that a graphic artist is appointed to choose judges? Is it just random or is it because she worked for a former Conservative minister?"

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson dismissed Menard's criticisms and said some of his comments were "an insult to firefighters across this country."

After question period, reporters asked Nicholson what qualifications a firefighter or graphic artist has to select judges. 

"I don't think a person's profession or what they do in their full-time position should disqualify them from any volunteer work being done by the Government of Canada," Nicholson explained. "So I don't know the individual that was appointed but I will tell you this: firefighters, like everybody else who works in society, they should not be excluded because of the profession." 

While in opposition and during the last election campaign, the Conservatives and Harper were quick to criticize the long list of patronage appointments put in place by the former Liberal government. 

The Tories' last election platform included a call to set "merit-based requirements for appointments to government boards, commissions, and agencies" to ensure competitions are fairly conducted. 

NDP MP Joe Comartin told reporters after question period that from the list of names he saw in the Globe on Monday morning the government's appointments to the committees were "clearly not merit-based."

The MP said the NDP and the Bloc have discussed this issue at the justice committee and want and end to such patronage practices involving judicial nominees. 

He said the criteria for people selected in the future should include a "knowledge of the legal system," but not necessarily a career in the legal profession.

However, Comartin noted that the Liberals made partisan appointments to the committees as well when they were in government. 

:  Related Links

> Keeping tabs on the Tory patronage comeback

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