OTTAWA — The Conservatives claim Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal government has stepped into its first ethics mess, accusing a minister of inappropriately contacting members of quasi-judicial federal tribunals.
But Dominic LeBlanc, the government’s House leader, says he’s done nothing wrong; he contacted the members only in order to correct an ethical lapse by the previous Conservative government.
At root of the charges and counter-charges is a patronage binge which the former government launched on the eve of last fall’s election, making or renewing appointments for federal positions that didn’t need to be filled until weeks or even months after the Conservatives were defeated.
On behalf of the prime minister, LeBlanc wrote to 33 of those appointees late last year, asking them to voluntarily resign.
Among the 33 were five members of the Immigration and Refugee Board, two members of the Social Security Tribunal, two members of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and one member of the Citizenship Commission.
Conservative MPs maintain LeBlanc’s letters constituted interference with members of quasi-judicial tribunals, an ethics breach for which ministers have been forced to resign in the past.
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“The government House leader has written a number of letters that directly interfere with operations of the immigration review board and citizenship judges,” London MP Karen Vecchio told the House of Commons on Tuesday.
“In the past, this exact issue has required ministers to resign. Just how low are the Liberal standards when it comes to ethical guidelines?”
LeBlanc countered that he was simply trying to fix the ethical mess left by the Conservatives.
“Talking about ethical guidelines, when we are talking about a previous government’s decision, at five minutes to midnight, to appoint a series of individuals to jobs to take effect after it lost the election, with no ability for this House to scrutinize those appointments, from our perspective, that was the abuse of process,” he said.
LeBlanc maintained there’s a difference between trying to influence members of independent tribunals with regard to specific cases before them and writing to them about the process by which they were appointed.
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The logical extension of the Tory argument, he said, would be that no minister can talk anyone about a potential appointment.
“For example, when the attorney general is about to appoint somebody to the bench, she should not possibly talk to that person?” LeBlanc scoffed.
“That is completely ridiculous. The government has the responsibility to talk to people whose appointments we are questioning or whose appointments we are about to make. We did not talk to people about specific cases or their work, with respect to any independent tribunal.”