The federal government has tapped long-time public servant Judith LaRocque for a temporary stint in a vice-chair role at the country’s telecom and broadcast regulator.
Ms. LaRocque has been named vice-chair of broadcasting at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), filling a position that had been left empty for almost a year and making it easier for the commission to conduct French-language hearings.
She started at the commission on Monday but instead of a typical five-year term, Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly appointed Ms. LaRocque on an “interim basis” for a six-month term that ends May 12.
The government picked her to fill the vice-chair role for the shorter term out of urgency, said Department of Canadian Heritage spokeswoman Geneviève Dubois-Richard, who suggested the vice-chair role remains open and Ottawa is still looking for a winning candidate.
“Due to urgent operational requirements, the position was filled on a temporary basis,” she said in an e-mailed statement.
“Meanwhile, an open, transparent, and merit-based selection process is ongoing under the new approach to [federal] appointments. An announcement will be made by the government in due course,” she added.
The CRTC is an arm’s-length federal body that regulates the broadcast and telecom industries. Commissioners take part in public hearings and vote on policies and applications.
Prior to Ms. LaRocque’s appointment, the CRTC had just two French-speaking commissioners, which became problematic for French-language hearings that typically require a panel of three French-speaking commissioners.
The CRTC does not confirm panel members until the day a proceeding begins, but Ms. LaRocque will likely be sitting on a hearing that starts next week in Laval, Que., on the renewal of broadcast licences for large, French-language owners.
CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais – whose own term as chair expires in June, 2017 – previously worked for Ms. LaRocque when she was deputy minister at the Department of Canadian Heritage and he was an assistant deputy minister in the early 2000s.
A spokesman for the CRTC said Monday that Ms. LaRocque herself would not comment on the appointment. But in an interview with The Globe and Mail earlier this year for a profile of Mr. Blais, Ms. LaRocque spoke about the challenges facing those who lead the regulator.
“If you’re able to carve out a bit of an agenda, that’s a good thing, but it’s also a very hard thing to do. You could let the every-day take over,” she said.
In response to a remark about the role of chairman being a difficult job, she said with a laugh, “I wouldn’t want it.”
Ms. LaRocque’s arrival at the regulator – which was down to just seven commissioners out of a possible 13 – will bolster its ranks, at least temporarily.
Tom Pentefountas left his position as vice-chair, broadcasting, on Nov. 20, 2015, and the federal government revoked the appointment of beleaguered Ontario commissioner Raj Shoan in June.
The role of Ontario commissioner has not been filled, and Candice Molnar, the commissioner for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, could leave another vacancy soon when her term officially expires in January.
Throughout her civil service career, Ms. LaRocque has also worked as secretary to the Governor-General and was most recently Canada’s ambassador and permanent representative at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, according to an internal memo circulated at the CRTC Monday morning.
“Her knowledge and experience will be invaluable to our work at placing Canadian citizens, creators, and consumers at the centre of their communications system,” said the memo from CRTC secretary-general Danielle May-Cuconato.
Ms. LaRocque handled numerous files over the course of about a decade at the Department of Heritage, including working on the difficult matter of copyright reform and helping to co-ordinate the federal government’s efforts for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic games in Vancouver.
With a report from