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Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa March 9, 2012.

Blair Gable/The Globe and Mail

The Harper government has filled the seats of a new tribunal created to hear appeals of social-security claims with members of the federal Conservative party and its allies at the provincial level.

The Social Security Tribunal, which began work last month as the body that will hear appeals of employment insurance, Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security decisions, has hired 46 full-time members and a chairperson. The government says the tribunal will be "fair, credible, impartial and independent."

But at least half of the tribunal's members – who will earn as much as $124,500 a year – have ties to the Conservatives.

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Six are failed Conservative candidates, one is a failed federal Progressive Conservative candidate, some have unsuccessfully run for Conservative nominations, some have been on the executive of Conservative riding associations, some have run for conservative parties at the provincial level, and others have donated to the federal party.

The appointments were made by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley and approved by the cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Before the Conservatives were first elected seven years ago, Mr. Harper complained about the patronage appointments that were handed out by the previous Liberal government and promised to ensure that competitions would be fairly conducted. But the Conservative government has regularly awarded its party faithful with plum positions – including in the Senate, where three of Mr. Harper's appointees are at the centre of a spending scandal that has reached into the Prime Minister's Office.

When asked Friday about the appointments to the Social Security Tribunal, Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan said all of the tribunal's members have undergone a rigorous selection process.

"That is part of the new culture of accountability," said Mr. Van Loan, "ensuring that the appointees who do these jobs are highly qualified, capable, experienced in the area that they are dealing with, so that they make judgments that protect the taxpayers' interests and deal with people's very important rights."

But the opposition New Democrats accuse the government of being on a partisan-appointment binge.

"The new Social Security Tribunal is being stacked with failed federal and provincial Conservative candidates, members of Tory riding associations and even a former provincial Tory cabinet minister," Chris Charlton, the NDP's human resources critic, told the House of Commons this week.

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"What will it take," she asked, "for the government to get the message that 'who you know in the PMO' is not merit?"

Many of the people appointed to the tribunal are former members of the Employment Insurance Boards of Referees which heard appeals of EI cases. Those 83 boards were made up of a chair who was appointed by the government, an employer representative who was recommended by business and an employee representative who was recommended by labour.

Anyone interested in being a member of the new tribunal had to pass a technical exam and then undergo an interview. Those who were judged to be qualified were put on a list that went to Ms. Finley and then to the cabinet.

Although some of the 162 names on the list belonged to people who sat on the EI Boards of Referees as labour appointees, none of the former labour appointees were appointed to the tribunal, said Angella MacEwen of the Canadian Labour Congress.

But many of those who applied as former government appointees on the EI Boards were successful.

They include Claude Durand who was the failed Conservative candidate in Trois-Rivières in 2008, Alcide Boudreault who was the failed Conservative candidate in Chicoutimi-Le Fjord in 2004 and 2006, and Pierre Lafontaine who was the failed Conservative candidate in Jeanne-Le Ber in 2011.

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