The Harper government is set to appoint the niece of a former Conservative premier to the board of Rights and Democracy - an arms-length agency struggling to restore an image battered by accusations of patronage and partisanship.
The revelation that Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has selected lawyer Katrine Giroux for the job follows a series of accusations over Conservative patronage appointments.
Ex-New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord, who was attending a campaign event with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday, acknowledged to The Canadian Press that he recommended Ms. Giroux, his niece through marriage.
Mr. Lord said someone at Rights and Democracy in Montreal - whose name he couldn't recall - asked him last year if he knew anyone competent, and he suggested Ms. Giroux. That was followed-up with an email soon afterward, and Mr. Lord repeated his recommendation.
Rights and Democracy, based in Montreal, has been snarled in a bitter internal dispute for more than a year. The agency's pro-Israel, Conservative-appointed board has been accused of transforming it into an ideologically driven body.
Ms. Giroux is described on her Moncton law firm's website as having graduated from law school in 2006 and being called to the bar in Nova Scotia in 2007. She was appointed to the CPP and OAS review panel in 2008.
She is listed as an expert in civil litigation and property law. Her resume does not include any mention of international experience, other than an undergraduate exchange to France a decade ago.
In February, Mr. Cannon consulted opposition leaders on the suggested appointment as required under the organization's founding act. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff rejected it, raising the issue of partisanship and also questioning her qualifications.
"In order to support both the mission and mandate of Rights and Democracy, the ideal candidate for this appointment should be drawn from Canada's vast pool of talent and expertise in international affairs," Mr. Ignatieff wrote.
"Further recognizing that this institution is designed to be independent and free from partisan influence, I would urge you to reconsider this appointment."
Despite Mr. Ignatieff's objection, Mr. Cannon's office said Ms. Giroux is still on the list for an appointment.
"Ms. Katrine Giroux was selected based on the merits of her credentials and qualifications," spokeswoman Lynn Meahan said. "We neither appoint nor exclude individuals based on their political affiliation or other considerations that do not speak their merits."
NDP critic Paul Dewar said the whole appointments system needs an overhaul
"The crisis in Rights and Democracy shows that you just can't trust the Conservatives with public appointments," he said in a statement.
"The process is broken. We need to strengthen accountability."
However, an official said the government didn't know about the relationship between Mr. Lord and Ms. Giroux.
Ms. Giroux's office said she was on vacation and out of the country.
Mr. Harper was asked during a campaign stop Thursday whether his government would open an investigation into the appointment of Conservatives to the federal Enterprise Cape Breton Corp. The Public Service Commission of Canada is already probing appointments of former political staff to civil service positions at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
In P.E.I., where Mr. Harper wound up his day Friday at a rally with candidates and supporters, a former aide to Defence Minister Peter MacKay landed a job as director general of ACOA's regional operations.
The board of Rights and Democracy was criticized for repudiating small grants to Middle East rights groups it did not like, and firing several managers. The board and management responded that there were grave internal problems that needed to be fixed.
The House of Commons foreign affairs committee began investigating the organization in March 2010, following the sudden death by heart attack of former agency president Remy Beauregard after a testy January board meeting.
Mr. Beauregard's widow testified her husband was hounded to his death by new, government-appointed board members motivated by ideological differences with the agency's direction.
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