Trudeau talks top court, Olympics as Atlantic visit starts in Newfoundland

Western centre field, Shontal Patey Callahan was thrilled to meet PM Justin Trudeau at the Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games in Conception Bay South, N.L, on August 15, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, N.L. - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says regional representation is important but won't guarantee the country's top court will continue to have a judge from Atlantic Canada.

Trudeau said Monday his Liberal government is weighing several factors as it considers the next vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada.

"We need to make sure that we're folding in all sorts of different aspects to get the best possible people to sit on the Supreme Court," he told reporters in Corner Brook, N.L., as he began a string of East Coast visits.

"Having the perspective from Atlantic Canada is an extremely important one, and we're looking forward to making sure we make the right choice."

Justice Thomas Cromwell of Nova Scotia retires next month, but Trudeau appears to be departing from the convention of automatically filling that place with another judge from the region.

That prospect drew criticism last week after the government announced it would make the selection process more transparent by having a new non-partisan advisory board develop a short list of potential new judges. The seven-member independent panel, led by former prime minister Kim Campbell, will review candidates from across the country.

Trudeau's mandate letter to Campbell asks her to ensure prospective judges are "functionally bilingual" and reflect Canada's ethnic diversity. Candidates from Atlantic Canada are expected to be on that short list and are encouraged to apply.

The president of the Canadian Bar Association, Janet Fuhrer, wrote Wednesday to Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, urging them to respect the regional appointment custom.

Three of the nine top judges by law are chosen from Quebec. Traditionally, the federal government appoints three judges from Ontario, two from the West, and one from Atlantic Canada.

Liberal MP Ken McDonald, representing Newfoundland's Avalon riding, said top court appointments should be based on merit — not location.

"I think we have to get away from thinking that it has to be a Newfoundland judge or a New Brunswick judge or a B.C. judge," he said in an interview. "It should be the person best qualified to the position."

All 32 federal ridings east of Quebec went Liberal red in last fall's election.

The prime minister was greeted by hundreds of selfie-seeking people as he visited a Memorial University of Newfoundland campus in Corner Brook. He made a brief morning stop there after meeting with Liberal Premier Dwight Ball on his way to the Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games for young athletes in Conception Bay South, outside St. John's.

Trudeau was a big hit as he met some of the athletes, ranging in age from 11 to 18.

Shontal Patey Callahan, a 13-year-old baseball player from Corner Brook, buried her face in her hands and squealed after the prime minister said hello to her and then stopped for a selfie photo with the girl sitting beside her.

"I'm speechless," she said, before quickly adding: "He's so cute, you know?

"I'm blessed, man. We're going to win."

Trudeau said he was up late Sunday night watching Olympics coverage of Andre De Grasse becoming Canada's latest sports hero with a bronze medal in the 100-metre sprint. It was the first medal for a Canadian male at the Games.

"It is 2016 which means the girls are doing extraordinarily well," Trudeau said.

"But I must admit I stayed up late to watch Andre De Grasse do just an extraordinary job in the 100-metre.

"We've got a great Olympic team and all of Canada is incredibly behind them."

Trudeau went on to New Brunswick later Monday where he spoke to a crowd of thousands in Caraquet in honour of Acadian Day, or "Quinze-Août."

His speech kicked off "Tintamerre," the annual tradition of marching through the streets with homemade noisemakers.

Horns blared constantly for an hour, as Trudeau waded through the crowd on a blocked-off Boulevard Saint Pierre, patiently taking photos with eager residents.

Trudeau has events Tuesday in Bridgetown and New Glasgow, N.S., before heading to Charlottetown.

— with files from Adam Hodnett in Caraquet, N.B.

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