An advocacy group has filed a complaint with the federal conflict of interest and ethics commissioner calling for an independent investigation into Dominic LeBlanc and the connections he has with recent judicial appointments in New Brunswick.
Democracy Watch is also calling on the federal government to suspend all judicial and watchdog appointments until “the appointment process is changed to be actually independent and merit-based.”
The connections to LeBlanc, MP for the New Brunswick riding of Beauséjour and current minister of intergovernmental affairs and northern affairs and internal trade, were initially reported on Tuesday and come despite promises by the federal Liberals to appoint the “most meritorious jurists” to judicial vacancies.
The appointments include the wife of LeBlanc’s brother-in-law and prominent donors to both the Liberal Party and the federal Liberal association for LeBlanc’s riding.
The details of the connections were first reported by CBC New Brunswick.
Financial records filed with Elections Canada indicate that Arthur Doyle and Robert Dysar, who were appointed to the trial division of the Court of Queen’s Bench earlier this month, have been long-time donors to both the Liberal Party of Canada and the Liberal Association for the federal riding of Beauséjour.
Records also show that both men were among a group of donors who gave money in 2009 to help LeBlanc cover approximately $31,000 in debt related to his unsuccessful 2008 federal Liberal leadership campaign.
Among other contributors to that group were Charles LeBlond, a partner at Stewart McKelvey LLP, and Moncton businessman Jacques Pinet.
LeBlond was appointed as a judge to New Brunswick’s Court of Appeal in March.
WATCH: Dominic LeBlanc says he is ‘owning up to mistakes’ after Ethics Commissioner ruling
Pinet did not receive a position as a judge but his wife, Tracey DeWare, did. DeWare was appointed as the chief justice of New Brunswick’s Court of Queen’s Bench in June.
In a fifth appointment, Marie-Claude Bélanger-Richard was picked to fill a judicial vacancy in Saint John in November 2018.
Bélanger-Richard, a family lawyer based in Moncton, is married to LeBlanc’s brother-in-law. However, LeBlanc did file a public declaration of recusal with the conflict of interest commissioner in regards to Bélanger-Richard in November 2018.
As a result of the number of connections between the judicial appointees and LeBlanc, Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, says an investigation is necessary to determine if LeBlanc violated federal ethics laws by “participating in the decisions to appoint the judges.”
Conacher says the incident is so concerning that the organization is calling on the federal government to stop the current appointment process.
“To stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for judges and watchdogs, the appointment process should be suspended until, as in the UK and Ontario, a fully independent public appointment commission is created to conduct public, merit-based searches for nominees and send a short list to Cabinet, with Cabinet required to choose from the list,” Conacher said in a press release.
Democracy Watch has even requested that Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion step aside from any possible investigation into the judicial appointments.
The organization says Dion cannot lead the investigation as he was “handpicked by the Trudeau cabinet.”
“Commissioner Dion must delegate the investigation to someone independent of his office and all political parties,” said Conacher.
LeBlanc’s office directed Global News to the office Justice Minister David Lametti’s in response to a request for comment.
Rachel Rappaport, a spokesperson for Lametti’s office referred Global News to the statement they issued Tuesday, saying that judicial appointments are “made on the basis of merit.”
“The Minister then carefully reviews the findings of the Judicial Advisory Committee and considers a number of factors, including the needs of the court, the diversity of the bench, each candidate’s area of expertise, and the strength of their application, in determining who to recommend to cabinet. Only candidates that have been recommended by the Judicial Advisory Committee can be put forward for consideration at the cabinet level,” said Rappaport.
“As with all Canadian citizens, judicial candidates are free to engage personally in political activities. The appointments process neither disqualifies nor privileges an applicant on the basis of political association. It is there to find the best candidate for the job.”
This isn’t the first time LeBlanc has had a run-in with Dion.
In September 2018, the commissioner ruled that LeBlanc, a former fisheries minister, had broken conflict of interest rules by awarding a licence to fish for Arctic surf clams to a company that was set to be run by his wife’s cousin.
Dion ruled that the plan to award the contract violated the section of the Conflict of Interest Act that bars public office holders from making decisions that would place them in a conflict as well as the section requiring officials to recuse themselves from such matters.
The licence, worth about $24 million, was cancelled before Dion’s ruling came down.
With files from Amanda Connolly