Doug Ford government changing system for appointing judges

Premier Doug Ford’s government is changing the rules that control how it appoints judges.

The changes will give cabinet a longer list of potential judges to choose from, but the move does not eliminate Ontario’s arms-length committee that interviews candidates and makes recommendations to cabinet for judicial appointments.

The changes will allow the government to fill judicial vacancies more quickly, helping to unclog Ontario’s courtrooms, said Attorney General Doug Downey in an interview Thursday.

Currently, a judicial appointments advisory committee can recommend just two candidates for each vacancy on the bench. The Ford government’s changes will increase that minimum number to six.

Asked what prevents him from picking only politically-connected lawyers from that list, Downey pointed to the committee, calling it “the important part of the integrity of the system” for appointing judges.

Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey says the changes will allow the government to fill judicial vacancies more quickly, helping to unclog provincial courtrooms. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

“This is the best system in Canada because we have an independent committee that does the recruitment, does the reviews, does the recommendations,” said Downey. “The independence of that committee, that’s the safeguard that we have in place.”

Patronage appointments have been a source of significant controversy for the Ford government, which came to power in part on a promise to be “a government that works for the people, not Liberal insiders.”

Among the government’s patronage appointments:

  • Ford’s friend Ron Taverner to be commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, which Taverner eventually turned down
  • two people with close connections to Ford’s former chief of staff Dean French to $165,000-a-year posts as Ontario’s foreign trade representatives
  • a defeated Progressive Conservative election candidate to be chair of the Education Quality and Accountability Office, on an annual salary of $140,000
  • Rueben Devlin, a veteran hospital CEO and former president of the Ontario PC Party was named Ford’s special adviser on health care, a position that did not previously exist, at an annual rate of $348,000.

The provincial government appoints judges tIn November, when Downey first floated possible changes to the system for appointing judges, the opposition New Democrats and some justice advocates raised concerns about potentially politicizing the process.

Downey said he consulted broadly with justice stakeholders before announcing Thursday’s changes. “I have confidence that they will have confidence in the system,” he said.


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