‘There seems to be a paralysis’: Trudeau government has backlog of more than 300 appointments
2016/10/18 Leave a comment
Almost a year in, one would expect more vacancies to have been filled, given the overall policy – greater diversity – is clear. But I can also see the wish to ensure that the details of the policy and its implementation are addressed first.
One of the key things to look for is the degree of transparency in political appointments, with comparable employment equity reporting to the public service and federally-regulated sectors (telecoms, banking, transport). Currently for judges, only gender is tracked. For other GiC appointments, while gender has been tracked comprehensively for 25 years (as has official languages), there has been little systemic tracking of the other groups (visible minorities, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities).
And in some cases, there has been backsliding: the GiC appointment index (top view) has less information than previously, requiring more looking at the individual organizations than before.
For my baseline study, see my short ebook, “Because it’s 2015 …” Implementing Diversity and Inclusion, available either in an iPad/Mac version (iBooks) or Windows (pdf) Version.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have accumulated a backlog of more than 300 appointments that are due to be filled, a CBC News investigation has found.
Almost 20 per cent of governor in council (GIC) appointments, which include roles with Crown corporations, port authorities, agencies and tribunals, are currently vacant or occupied by a Conservative appointee whose term is past its expiry date.
Overall, 170 GIC positions are listed as vacant. Another 116 are past their appointment’s expiry date but the incumbent has been allowed to remain in the role until he or she is either replaced or renewed.
Currently, 61 federally appointed judge positions are vacant, including one seat on the Supreme Court of Canada.
In the Senate, 20 per cent of the 105 seats are empty. The government has pledged to fill the 21 spots “by the end of the year.” Three more senators are due to retire in January.
Taking a toll
In some cases, incumbents have been temporarily renewed only a day or two before their appointments were set to expire because the government had not yet launched the process to find a replacement.
For example, Graham Fraser’s appointment as commissioner of official languages, which was set to expire Sunday, was extended Thursday for two months. The government has yet to issue a job posting to find his successor.
The backlog has taken a toll on the operations of some boards and government bodies.
The CRTC hasn’t been able to hold a planned hearing on French music since November because it doesn’t have the necessary three French-speaking commissioners.
The parole board, where 21 per cent of positions are currently vacant, says it’s being stretched, with its remaining part-time board members putting in additional hours to ensure the work is done.
Alberta judges warned a Senate committee in late September that the 61 vacant judge positions could affect court proceedings, saying the province’s justice system is so backlogged they are now setting trial dates for 2018. Last week, an Edmonton judge stayed a murder charge against Lance Matthew Regan, citing delays in bringing the case to trial caused in part by the backlog in Alberta’s justice system.
Liberal government insiders privately point to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office as the source of the problem, saying “the centre” has been “overwhelmed.”
The government is confident the problem will be resolved soon. It says the backlog was caused in part by the decision to overhaul the appointments process and bring in a more open, balanced, merit-based system. The new system is now up and running and vacancies are being filled, officials say.
Sean Fine of the Globe focusses on the impact on the court system:
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is considering his first appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada – a vacancy became available on Sept. 1 – the shortage of lower-court judges may make it difficult for some jurisdictions to meet constitutional guarantees of timely criminal trials.
In July, the Supreme Court of Canada set a deadline of 30 months in superior courts (such as the Court of Queen’s Bench) from the time a charge is laid until the trial is completed. In Calgary, the wait is now just short of 15 months – 63 weeks – to schedule a trial of five days or more. (It can take months from the time a charge is laid until a trial is scheduled.) The situation is about the same in Nova Scotia, where the Supreme Court is now booking criminal trials of five days or more for next fall.
Civil trials, too, face long delays, which Chief Justice Wittmann said is especially hard on families seeking resolutions to legal problems. The lead time to schedule a civil or family trial of five days or more in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Calgary is now 138 weeks – bookings are being accepted for April, 2019. The Court of Queen’s Bench is Alberta’s top trial court, and it has seven vacancies and 59 full-time judges in office, according to the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs. The province’s Court of Appeal has two vacancies and 12 full-time judges in office.
In Nova Scotia, the Supreme Court (the top trial court) has five vacancies and 31 full-time judges in office. The Court of Appeal has one vacancy and seven judges in office.
“On rare occasions in the past we’ve had to cancel matters. However, this is the first time we’ve had to send out multiple letters the month before suggesting that trial dates be rescheduled due to the shortage of judges,” Jennifer Stairs, the communications director for the Nova Scotia judiciary, told The Globe in an e-mail.
“That’s very difficult on the lawyers and on the litigants who are anxious to have their matters heard.”
B.C. has eight vacancies and 82 judges in office on its Supreme Court, and three open spots and 12 judges in office on its appeal court. Five-day criminal trials are available in January, 2017, while five-day civil trials, other than motor-vehicle actions, can be booked from August, 2017, onward. Dates for five-day motor-vehicle action trials are fully booked for the next 18 months, according to Superior Courts communications officer Bruce Cohen.
The Canadian Bar Association, representing the country’s legal profession, is also upset at the delays in appointing judges.
“We are very concerned. Ongoing judicial vacancies have created significant delays in the court system. These delays have a serious impact on separating families and their children, on criminal justice, on business in Canada,” CBA president René Basque said in an e-mail.