Ottawa is consulting with Quebec to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada before summer – an appointment designed to find approval in both the national capital and Quebec City, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said.
The Conservative government turned to Quebec to create a candidate list for the court after trying to appoint a judge from the Federal Court of Appeal who was deemed ineligible to fill a vacancy reserved for that province.
"They have provided us with a list," Mr. MacKay said on Wednesday, "and we are looking for a consensus that would include a name from that list. … Our list and their list are being examined in concert to find a common name."
Mr. MacKay reiterated his pledge to fill the vacancy, which is entering its 10th month, before summer. "We are obviously running up against what I consider to be serious timelines," he said. "We need to get that position filled."
The move is a dramatic about-face for the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, after it passed over virtually all of Quebec's top judges and lawyers in an effort to appoint a judge closer to its conservative views than it apparently believed it could find in Quebec.
In Quebec City on Wednesday, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Ottawa has a duty to consult and take into account the Quebec government's recommendations in filling positions from the province on the Supreme Court. Mr. Trudeau discussed the issue during a meeting with Premier Philippe Couillard, the two men agreeing that future Supreme Court judges from the province should be chosen from a list submitted by the province.
"I think the situation that the Prime Minister finds himself in right now is one entirely of his own making, where he refused to listen and respect Quebec's recommendations around Supreme Court nominations," Mr. Trudeau said.
The Liberal Leader added that the Prime Minister has the constitutional prerogative of making the final choice. But that shouldn't give him the authority to ignore the province's requests, he said. The decision to nominate Justice Marc Nadon, which was found to be unlawful and rejected by the highest court, could have been avoided through close consultation with Quebec, he said.
Meanwhile, a retired judge launched a spirited defence of Justice Nadon at a legal conference on Wednesday, saying he is a good judge who has been unfairly maligned.
"I would say he is probably as good as some that have been up there on the Supreme Court of Canada," Gilles Létourneau, who retired a year ago from the Federal Court of Appeal, told a conference at the University of Ottawa law school. "He did not in any way deserve the treatment he has been given."
Justice Nadon has lived in an often harsh public spotlight ever since his appointment, when the news media and legal commentators questioned why Mr. Harper chose a semi-retired judge who was a specialist in maritime law, rather than the court's key areas of criminal or constitutional law. The Quebec National Assembly opposed his nomination in a unanimous resolution.
"It was quite hard for him to go through that process," Mr. Létourneau said in an interview. "He was somewhat caught between a hard rock and a tree. Being elevated to the Supreme Court of Canada and having left the Federal Court of Appeal he could not walk out of the process, because he would find himself with no position. … It became a real ordeal for him."
Justice Nadon is back on the Federal Court of Appeal, but has rejected requests for an interview.