Harper vs. the chief justice

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Commentary with Geoff deGannes

Since winning a majority, the Harper Government has been doing its best to reshape our constitutional democracy and certainly not for the better. While the Prime Minister is building an international reputation for chastising other regimes on the globe for trampling on rights and freedoms, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Harper been doing a good job domestically of driving a wedge between his government and our established institutions.     Those who have fallen out of favour with Harper have included the chief electoral officer, the auditor general and the parliamentary budget officer. It’s been a case of Harper’s way or the highway. Most disturbing of all has been the PM’s very public spat with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverly McLaughlin.   

It is the height of inappropriateness and hardly prime ministerial for Harper to have made such outlandish claims about an official with the highest court in the land and it even has some prominent Conservatives shaking their heads in disbelief.   

The PMO and Justice Minister Peter MacKay tried to mislead Canadians by suggesting the chief justice has inappropriately tried to lobby the government to block a Supreme Court appointment.   There is not a shred of evidence that that indeed happened.  

In fact, Chief Justice McLachlin was simply warning the Conservative government that Justice Marc Nadon, a Federal Court of Appeal judge, might not fit the legal criteria set for Quebec appointees to the Supreme Court. 

McLachlin said in a statement she only wanted to ensure that the government was aware of the eligibility issue, but didn’t express any opinion on its merits. It is certainly not unusual for a chief justice to confer with the Prime Minister on such appointments.   

The Toronto Star’s Tonda MacCharles writes, the Conservatives are bitter that the Supreme Court has handed them a string of humiliating and richly deserved defeats on issues that include Harper’s bungled, unlawful appointment of federal court judge Marc Nadon to a Quebec seat on the Supreme Court; his proposals for Senate reform; and his tough-on-crime agenda. Hence the payback.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister has appointed the majority of judges currently sitting on the Supreme Court.   

The Toronto lawyer who first challenged the appointment of Justice Nadon certainly didn’t mince his words this week in reaction to the prime minister’s attack on the chief justice. Rocco Galati says, “he’s shocked by the depravity of the prime minister in now making these ridiculous statements with respect to the chief justice, who is a person of integrity and had every right to raise this with the justice minister.”   

This country has been well served by the Supreme Court and the decisions it has made in the best interests of Canadians. Its reputation has been unfairly tarnished by a prime minister and a government that demeans its role by being politically vindictive and petty. The chief justice is at least deserving of an apology from the prime minister. 


Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.  


Organizations: Supreme Court, Harper Government, Conservatives Federal Court of Appeal Tantramar Radio Society

Geographic location: Quebec, Toronto

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