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PMO could have big role in Senate clerk appointment, though process still unsettled

By Peter Mazereeuw      

The current appointment process could see only PMO, PCO staff on the selection committee for Charles Robert's replacement.

Governor General David Johnston oversaw a ceremony to grant royal assent to several bills in the Senate Chamber earlier this month. The Senate will lose its top procedural adviser soon, and the process for selecting a successor has not yet begun. The Canadian Press photograph by Fred Chartrand
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The government is still contemplating how to pick the next Senate clerk, though the process currently laid out would rely heavily on direction from the Prime Minister’s and Privy Council offices.

Charles Robert, the interim Senate clerk who was recently named the new House clerk, moves into his new role in the House on July 10.

Meanwhile, several other top roles in the House and Senate are expected to be vacant soon.

The clerk of the House and clerk of the Senate positions are both filled through governor-in-council (GIC) appointments. The government sparked a backlash from former House clerks and the Conservative caucus when it used its new GIC appointment process, brought in last year, to name Mr. Robert the next House clerk over longtime deputy and acting House clerk Marc Bosc.

The government’s new GIC process relies on selection committees made up of officials from the Prime Minister’s and Privy Council offices, as well as from the office and department of the relevant minister, to recommend candidates to the prime minister.

Mr. Robert was selected by a panel made up of Rheal Lewis, the chief of staff to Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.); Hilary Leftick, the prime minister’s appointments director in the PMO; Ian McCowan, the deputy secretary to the cabinet for governance in the PCO; and Eileen Boyd, a former PCO assistant secretary to the cabinet for senior personnel who retired in 2014, according to her LinkedIn profile, and is working on a contract. Ms. Chagger’s office confirmed the selection panel members.

Charles Robert, the new House clerk as of July 10, and soon-to-be former interim Senate clerk. Photograph courtesy of the office of the Senate clerk

For the Senate clerk, the PMO would technically be considered the “responsible” ministry, according to a PCO spokesperson. That would mean a selection committee made up entirely of PMO and PCO staff.

However, the government has not yet decided what process or individuals will be used to select the next Senate clerk, according to PCO spokesperson Paul Duchesne.

It’s too early to say whether the government’s representative in the Senate, Sen. Peter Harder (Ottawa), would be involved, according to his office.  

The clerk of the Senate is the top adviser to Senators, and the Senate Speaker in particular, on the rules, procedures, and practices of the Senate.

Sergeant-at-arms still vacant

The government has also yet to appoint a sergeant-at-arms for the House, another GIC-appointed parliamentary official, to replace Kevin Vickers, who left in 2015 to become Canada’s ambassador to Ireland. A notice of the vacancy was posted in the Canada Gazette in July 2015, seeking candidates for the job with “significant experience in a security-related field,” among other qualifications, and directing applicants to send their CV to the PCO. However, since then security in the House has been managed by Patrick McDonell, the deputy sergeant-at-arms and Corporate Security Officer.

The deputy clerk of the House is also a GIC-appointed position. Should Mr. Bosc choose not to stay in the deputy clerk role under Mr. Robert, it would require another selection committee to choose a replacement.

Assistant Clerk André Gagnon has been serving as the acting deputy under Mr. Bosc.

Nicole Proulx, another top-level Senate clerk in charge of the Chamber’s Internal Economy Committee and its chief corporate services officer, may be retiring before the end of the year as well, creating a second vacancy among Senate officers. However, Ms. Proulx’s position is not a GIC appointment, and the hiring process would instead by arranged by the Senate Internal Economy Committee, according to Victoria Deng, a spokesperson for Senate Speaker George Furey (Newfoundland and Labrador).

Michel Patrice is the third of the top-level Senate clerks. He is the Senate law clerk, parliamentary counsel, and chief parliamentary precinct services officer. 

Rare split vote over House clerk appointment

The government brought in the new governor-in-council appointment process last year, touting it as open, transparent, and merit-based: many top jobs are now open to all applicants, instead of being worked out entirely behind the scenes.

However, it has been criticized for a variety of reasons, including a failure to fill vacancies quickly enough. More recently, MPs from all parties as well as some current and former House officials were surprised or questioned why Mr. Bosc was not named the full-time House clerk.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) lauded the incoming clerk, Mr. Robert, for “his vast knowledge of rules, procedures, practices, and precedent, along with his decades of dedicated public service” in a press release about the appointment Monday. He also commended Mr. Bosc for his “exemplary leadership in the House.”

There has not been a competition held for the House clerk in recent history, and the last several deputy clerks were promoted to fill the role without controversy. The government has also traditionally consulted with the opposition in the House on the prospective appointee before nominating a clerk, but did not do so in this case, leading the Conservative caucus and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) to vote against Mr. Robert’s appointment, though the vote was ultimately in favour of the appointment by a margin of 200-79. It was the first time in recent history that a recorded vote was held over the appointment of the House clerk.

Both Ms. May and Conservative MP Candice Bergen (Portage-Lisgar, Man.), her party’s House leader, said their votes were a protest to the selection process, and not a comment on Mr. Robert, who began his career in the House and has served in the Senate since 1991.

A pair of former House clerks, Robert Marleau and Audrey O’Brien, blasted the government’s appointment process and decision to skip over Mr. Bosc for the job, and Mr. Marleau suggested it could signal a “return to government control of the table” at which the House clerks sit.

Ms. Chagger has defended the appointment as part of a “transparent, merit-based process.” She has not offered up any more information as to why Mr. Bosc was not selected, reiterating that the appointment merely followed the government’s new process for governor-in-council appointments.

Conservative MP Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) has filed an order paper question seeking full details about the selection process used to appoint the new House clerk.

peter@hilltimes.com

@PJMazereeuw

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