Focus On

Grits back off bid to remove administrator

Thursday, March 03, 2016 @ 7:00 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

After pushback from the federal courts headquartered in Ottawa, the Liberal government is backing away from firing the head of the Courts Administration Service, whom the previous Conservative government reappointed for a five-year term that started last Jan. 31.

“Daniel Gosselin’s reappointment as chief administrator of the Courts Administration Service has been approved — a letter is forthcoming from the minister,” Joanne Ghiz, a spokeswoman for federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, said at press time via an unsolicited e-mail sent after The Lawyers Weekly contacted the chief justices of the Federal Court, Federal Court of Appeal, Tax Court and Court Martial Appeal Court for their take on the professional limbo faced by their chief administrator since last November. The Federal Court confirmed that Gosselin received a letter from the minister Feb. 23 endorsing his reappointment.

The career senior civil servant and chartered accountant, who successfully competed for the post in 2011, was among the 49 people named by the former Harper government to boards, tribunals and other order-in-council positions prior to the election call last August — whose appointments or reappointments did not take effect for days, weeks or months after the Conservatives were defeated at the polls last Oct. 19.

Gosselin, appointed at the federal Cabinet’s pleasure, and about 30 other people with advance appointments, soon got a form letter from Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc inviting them to “consider voluntarily choosing to not serve pursuant to the appointment approved by the previous government. This will allow for a new selection process in which you are welcome to participate…We expect to be held accountable for the quality of appointments made during our tenure and your co-operation in meeting the expectations of Canadians is appreciated.’’

Gosselin kept on working. Meanwhile, Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton wrote to the government asking it to reconsider. “I confirmed my support for the chief administrator and asked, respectfully, that the government’s request be withdrawn,” the chief justice explained via e-mail. “Since his appointment in 2011, Mr. Gosselin has maintained my full confidence and trust in the execution of his duties. Having completed only a single term, his reappointment will serve to provide stability in the administration of the Courts Administration Service, which provides core registry and administrative services critical to the functioning of our national courts.”

The Liberals’ sharp course correction might also have been informed by an apparently belated realization that the chief justices could likely successfully challenge (in Federal Court, as it happens) any unilateral decision by Ottawa to fire — or hire — the courts’ top mandarin, without consulting them.

The government did not consult with the chief justices before inviting Gosselin to resign. Yet the CAS’s enabling legislation, the Courts Administration Service Act, expressly stipulates that it seeks to “enhance judicial independence by placing administrative services at arm’s length from the government of Canada and by affirming the roles of chief justices and judges in the management of the courts.”

Therefore “the minister of justice shall consult the chief justices of the Federal Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, the Court Martial Appeal Court and the Tax Court of Canada with respect to the appointment and reappointment of the chief administrator and, if applicable, the termination of the chief administrator’s appointment.”

The chief justices were consulted when Gosselin was first appointed to lead the courts’ joint registry and before his appointment was renewed last June.

The government does not appear to be going beyond asking for the resignations of the advance appointees named by the Conservatives, including to such politically sensitive entities as the National Energy Board and the leadership of Canada Post.

Some members of the quasi-judicial Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the Immigration and Refugee Board (appointed on good behaviour) were also asked to resign their advance appointments.

“I am aware of two members of the tribunal having received such letters: Ms. Olga Luftig and Mr. George Ulyatt,” Canadian Human Rights Tribunal chairman David Thomas said by e-mail. “Neither member has tendered their resignation to me, nor indicated to me an intention to resign. Furthermore, it is my understanding that the government will take no further action with respect to their appointments and their decision to continue to serve.”

Before he led the CAS, Gosselin was vice-president of corporate management and chief financial officer at the National Research Council. He is overseeing the courts’ efforts to modernize their antiquated paper-based operations in the face of tight budget constraints. He also serves four separate courts and chief justices, with particular priorities and points of view on operational and administrative matters — a challenge unto itself.

Ghiz indicated inviting Gosselin to resign was not about job performance. “A number of appointments made by the previous government took effect after the election — the majority were not tabled early enough for the previous Parliament to have considered them,” she explained. “As a matter of fairness and transparency, appointees were asked to consider voluntarily choosing to not serve the appointment made by the previous government. This is not about the individuals; it is about the process and about supporting the government’s commitment to openness and transparency.”

The Liberals pledged in their election platform to introduce “a government-wide open and merit-based appointments process” that “will ensure gender parity and that more indigenous peoples and minority groups are reflected in positions of leadership.”