Tag Archives: Sean Fine

Courting Canada’s Conservatism


Much has been written about the country – our country – that Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has wrought over the past decade. Indeed, this is not the Canada that Pierre Trudeau, or even Brian Mulroney, left behind.

Still, every individual lucky (or unfortunate) enough to occupy the official residence at 24 Sussex Drive makes his or her mark on the political and cultural landscape of the nation – for better and for worse.

For his part, Mr. Harper clearly hopes that however the election in October plays out he and his crusty crew of Tories will be remembered and admired as competent fiscal managers, demonstrably capable in all matters concerning the economy. And, until about a minute ago, that might have been a fair expectation.

The current condition of Canada’s commercial and labour markets has all but undermined the current government’s fondest dreams of a legacy on economic grounds. Two consecutive months of negative growth, stubbornly low commodity prices, moribund employment in just about every sector and region of the country have done quick, nasty work to the agenda.

Yet, there is one area where Mr. Harper may well have secured a place for himself in the history books: The judiciary.

In a fascinating and bravely reported piece in a recent edition of the Globe and Mail, that newspaper’s justice writer Sean Fine observes, “Mr. Harper’s battles with the Supreme Court are well known. The court has struck down or softened several of his crime laws. When the Prime Minister named an outspoken conservative, Marc Nadon, to the Supreme Court in 2013, the court itself declared Justice Nadon ineligible. Mr. Harper would go on to publicly assail the integrity of Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, turning an institutional dispute into a very personal battle.”

But a closer look behind the curtain reveals a far more successful campaign to remake the country’s judicial system in a decidedly Conservative image. As Mr. Fine reports, “While those public conflicts were playing out, the government was quietly transforming the lower courts. The Conservative government has now named about 600 of the 840 full-time federally appointed judges, or nearly three in every four judges on provincial superior courts, appeal courts, the Federal Court and Tax Court.”

Why does this matter as long as the Supreme Court retains at least a modicum of ideological independence? The answer is that the high court doesn’t actually do the daily heavy lifting in our judicial system. The courts with which Mr. Harper is most concerned are, Mr. Fine writes, the ones that, “at the appeal level, decide how the government’s crime crackdown is to be implemented. At the trial level, they decide high-profile cases. In constitutional cases, they rule on social and legislative facts – anything that establishes the real-world context in which a law plays out, such as whether prostitution laws endanger sex workers.

“Higher courts, including the Supreme Court, do not change these facts, unless they view them as wildly wrong. Constitutional rulings depend on these facts. The judges, who can serve until they are 75, may be sitting long after other governments have come along and rewritten the laws. They also are a farm team or development system for the Supreme Court.”

In effect, “They are Mr. Harper’s enduring legacy.”

Economic conditions run hot and cold, but matters of justice, law and morality are enshrined in the democratic institutions we embrace and on which we depend.

This is where Canada’s new conservatism will root itself and ensure, among other things, that Mr. Harper will be remembered long after he’s left the political stage.

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When getting answers from Ottawa, the cost is worth the price


Go ahead, ask a question of one of Canada’s esteemed government members. I dare you.

We unelected peasants are, of course, accustomed to obfuscation masquerading as straight talk from those who we periodically install to purportedly defend our democracy.

But it may surprise you to learn that one Conservative backbencher has actually obtained a price tag for every query his fellow parliamentarians — Tory or not — toss at cabinet members in the simple prosecution of their duties.

It’s $117,188 and change.

That’s not for answers to trivial inquires, such as “Will the minister please explain why the socks he is wearing today do not match?” or “Why does this government insist on telling Canadians that sartorial standards require that all attendees to baseball games wear straw boaters, when clearly brimmed caps are the norm?”

No, it’s the cost associated with replying to weightier interrogatives related to such matters as “the percentage of Employment Canada benefits applications that are rejected and how many people have to wait longer than 28 days for a response; which government department is responsible for monitoring the transportation of fissile radioactive material inside our borders; how much money Ottawa has spent developing software since 2011 and what the software actually does; and the amount the government spent on travel expenses while negotiating the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union.”

The quote comes from a Globe and Mail editorial published last Thursday. It refers to actual questions on the Order Paper, which provides mostly opposition MPs with a constitutionally valuable means to ascertain just how much horse pucky a reigning government manages to sling during any given parliamentary session.

Now, Tory MP Mike Wallace wonders whether the cost to Canadian taxpayers is worth the effort to remain accountable to Canadian citizens, if only in this one, time-honoured way.

To be clear, he asked a question, placed on the Order Paper (presumably costing $177,188) that, reportedly, went like this: “Are we sure we’re getting value for the dollar?” In an interview with the Globe, he elaborated: “I think it’s just important that it’s on the record. I think government and Parliament could run more efficiently and effectively in a lot of areas and this is just one little, tiny example of where. . .are we sure we’re getting value for the dollar?”

To ask whether it’s prudent to ask questions of government members, knowing that the question itself will add to the putative $1.2-million, annual bill you’re railing against in the first place, is the apex of right-wing disrespect for, and cynicism about, 145 years of wise, parliamentary procedure.

You might have simply emailed my old colleague Sean Fine, justice reporter at the Globe, with your thoughts. No harm, no foul.

As for you now, though, for shame, Mr. Wallace, for shame!

Still, know that you are not the only one of your ilk who owes an apology to the Canadian electorate.

There is the little matter of your overlord’s constantly fractious relationship with this country’s judiciary, in which he has impugned the reputation of its head, for no apparent reason except spite; slammed its obligations to patiently review the exigencies of government’s legislative branch in the context of constitutional justice; and all but repealed an enlightened policy of his own design because a few big mouths in his circle chose to speak out against him.

Again, the Globe reports: “Last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that selection panels of MPs from the major political parties would assess candidates being considered for the Supreme Court of Canada, in consultation with leading judges and lawyers, though the actual appointment would remain a Crown prerogative.”

Now, we learn, alongside Mr. Wallace’s concerns about sharing information too freely among the hoi polloi, that this noble exercise in accountability is “being reviewed” for the simple reason that it produced too much accountability, too much truth about Ottawa’s wheelhouses of power and influence, too much public information made too readily to the very people who install these bozos to defend our democracy — we, the peasants.

Dare we ask questions? We’re damed if we don’t.

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