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Federal Politics

Subtly remaking Canada in a conservative mould

Supreme Court of Canada

Christmas came early for Harper this year. Like – real early.

Two troubling stories surfaced over the past few days that have the potential to subtly remake Canada in a more socially conservative mould. And while this is not the stuff of hidden agendas, this has been one of my largest fears with a Conservative majority – that absent overt policy statements, the Tories would find ways in which to subtly alter the political and social landscapes.

And who had money on the Supreme Court of Canada being at the centre of both stories? Not me. Good thing I am not a betting man, but if I had, I would have cleaned up this week.

The first story, reported on in the Montreal Gazette, involved the SCC siding with the government in rejecting “a request to grant public access to the prime minister’s daily appointment book and other ministerial documents.”

In their final ruling, which was a unanimous decision, Justice Louise Charron argued that “as the government rightly argues, such interpretation (of granting access) would dramatically expand the access-to-information regime in Canada, a result that can only be achieved by Parliament.”

Which would be all well and good if there was any hope of Parliament debating and passing such a relaxing of the gag the CPC holds on their ministerial agendas and documents. But who are we kidding? Harper must have breathed the most audible sigh of relief when the SCC sided with him and his policy of restriction and tightly-scripted ministerial statements. Anyone who watched Harper on the campaign trail knows how efficiently that man sticks to the script and reigns in his staff.

To be fair to the SCC, their ruling was not inherently a gift to the Conservative government, but in this political climate, it is hard to see it as anything but. It gives not just the Tories, but any future government the right to conduct even more business in the shadows.

The second gift Harper received also came courtesy of the Supreme Court, though not through a direct ruling. Two judges have announced this past week that they will both seek early retirement before the mandatory retirement age of 75. This gives Harper “a chance to remake the high court along conservative lines” by 2015, according to the Globe and Mail.

The Globe reports that,

Legal experts now believe Mr. Harper will use his choices to usher in a decades-long course of conservative Charter of Rights rulings and low-key deference to Parliament. That prospect is sure to delight those who view activist judges as anathema and the Charter with suspicion. At the same time, it conjures up a potential nightmare for the political left and civil libertarians who look to the Supreme Court to strike down laws that offend the Charter and to safeguard the rights of the accused.

So – and here is where I struggle with this. Harper’s government is struck down for contempt of Parliament and is rewarded with a majority government, which already sets a worrying precedent. And then – if that wasn’t amazing enough for them – within the first two weeks of their new mandate the Supreme Court of Canada approved their right to withhold ministerial documents and agendas, creating a troubling loophole for those who seek to keep contentious issues away from the public spotlight. And then – hold onto you hats! – Harper finds out that two MORE Supreme Court judges will be stepping down between now and 2015 when his majority government will come to a close than he previously thought, allowing him a rare opportunity to radically alter the make-up of the SCC in a short period of time.

Holy smokes. Just when we thought the Tories had it all going their way the Supreme Court gives them the green light to keep their dealings secret to the public that elected them, and the right to stock the SCC with socially conservative judges who, as the Globe points out, often view the Charter and other fundamental aspects of what it means to be Canadian with suspicion.


About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


One thought on “Subtly remaking Canada in a conservative mould

  1. Well written Andrew. I hadn’t heard of the first bit of news but the second one was in the paper the other day. I agree that Harper will not be able to resist the opportunity to “stack the deck” in his favour. Of course, if I were in his shoes I’d probably do the same thing myself- thank God I’m not Prime Minister.

    Posted by JReeves | May 20, 2011, 8:26 pm

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