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Liberal government nominates languages and lobbying commissioners

Raymond Théberge is shown in a Université de Moncton handout photo.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal Liberal government has moved to fill two of the four officer of Parliament jobs that are occupied by interim appointees or commissioners who have been working on six-month extensions.

But the New Democrats who, according to Parliamentary rules, must be consulted along with all of the other official parties in the House of Commons and the Senate before Nancy Bélanger can be appointed Lobbying Commissioner and Raymond Théberge can be appointed Commissioner of Official Languages, say that consultation has been inadequate.

They are demanding to see a short list of candidates, along with their qualifications, before they will respond to the nominations.

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"This is very problematic" because the Liberal government has unilaterally determined that the consultation process it established satisfies the requirements of the appointments, Guy Caron, the parliamentary leader for the NDP, wrote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in letters dated Wednesday.

In fact, wrote Mr. Caron, what happened in the nomination of Mr. Théberge was that Heritage Minister Melanie Joly called the opposition parties last week to notify them of the nomination. It is unclear from the letters how much consultation with the other parties was involved in Ms. Bélanger's appointment.

"A simple notice of consultation does not constitute consultation and goes against the essence of the law," wrote Mr. Caron.

His criticisms echo those voiced by the opposition parties last spring when the Liberals tried to appoint Madeleine Meilleur, a former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister, to the post of Languages commissioner. In that case, the leaders of the Conservatives and the New Democrats argued that Ms. Meilleur was too partisan to be an independent officer of Parliament and they said they had not been adequately consulted, prompting Ms. Meilleur to withdraw her candidacy in June.

Ms. Bélanger, a lawyer and long-time civil servant who is a deputy commissioner in the Office of the Information Commissioner, has been nominated to replace Karen Shepherd as Lobbying Commissioner. Ms. Shepherd has been given three six-month extensions since her seven-year term expired in June, 2016.

Mr. Théberge, who holds a PhD in linguistics and is the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Moncton, is nominated to become the next Commissioner of Official Languages, filling a job that has had no permanent occupant for nearly a year.

Mr. Trudeau said in a statement that Ms. Bélanger "has an extensive legal background, proven leadership experience and an exemplary commitment to public service."

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Of Dr. Théberge, the Prime Minister said: "His experience as a community advocate, an academic and a public servant has provided him with a greater appreciation of the challenges faced by English– and French-speaking communities across Canada."

The Prime Minister's Office has been criticized for the slow pace at which it has moved to fill the officer of Parliament positions since taking office in 2015.

The extended mandates of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the Information Commissioner are also about to expire. And, if the government cannot get Ms. Bélanger officially installed as Lobbying Commissioner by Dec. 15, when Parliament is expected to rise for the holidays, Ms. Shepherd may have to be given a fourth six-month extension.

Ms. Bélanger, who has a master of laws degree, joined the federal public service in 1993 as a law clerk with the Federal Court of Canada, where she eventually became executive officer to the chief justice. She was also a senior legal adviser with the Immigration and Refugee Board and worked for the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner before joining the Information Commissioner's Office in July, 2013.

Dr. Théberge had been an educator and academic for more than 35 years and has been president of the University of Moncton, the largest francophone university in Canada outside Quebec, since 2012. He was an assistant deputy minister in the French-language bureau of Manitoba's Department of Education, the executive director of the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada, an assistant deputy minister with responsibility for French language in Ontario's Ministry of Education, and served as director-general of the Société franco-manitobaine, which advocates for the French-speaking community in Manitoba.

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