Top News

EDITORIAL: Resistance isn't futile on Supreme Court appointments

The Supreme Court of Canada building in Ottawa
The Supreme Court of Canada building in Ottawa

Timing in politics is everything. That axiom makes the pending opening on the Supreme Court of Canada an interesting and increasingly controversial one.

Justice Thomas Cromwell’s surprise announcement in March that he was retiring early from the country’s highest court Sept. 1 has thrown convention upside down. The respected Nova Scotia jurist was widely touted as the possible successor to Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

Convention should see Justice Cromwell’s position filled by an Atlantic Canadian. The constitution guarantees that three members on the bench come from Quebec, while convention ensures Ontario has three members, British Columbia one, the Prairies one and Atlantic Canada one.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped a bombshell in early August. The new process is to be open, transparent, and accountable – repeating the Liberal party platform. So far, so good.

RELATED: Russell Wangersky: Judge selection process raises red flags

An independent board will identify candidates “who are jurists of the highest caliber, functionally bilingual and representative of the diversity of Canada . . . Any qualified Canadian may apply.” Suddenly, Mr. Trudeau changed the ground rules.

The PM’s rationale and arguments are fine – to a point. The panel can apply them all – to the best qualified Atlantic Canadian. All Mr. Trudeau has to do is follow advice from the Canadian Bar Association, which argues that the highest court must continue to represent all regions of Canada, including Atlantic Canada.

The association urged the PM to amend the mandate of the advisory board to ensure that an Atlantic Canadian fills the vacancy. It’s quite simple, really.

When he selected his cabinet, Mr. Trudeau was big on regions and proportionality. Half his cabinet members are women to reflect Canadian demographics. Each province is represented by at least one MP. He saw the necessity that various regions of this vast, far-flung country be represented to offer balance around the table.

Decisions by the Supreme Court are no less important. Members of the court must include the best minds and abilities from each region. The PM’s idea of diversity differs from time-honoured convention. Diversity means recognizing regions.

Citing his background in constitutional law, P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan says that qualifications and regional perspective are important and both can be accommodated through an Atlantic Canadian when choosing someone to sit on the court.

The premier, who might be considered as a candidate for the court himself, hopes that candidates from Atlantic Canada are given “full consideration.”

That is insufficient. Mr. Trudeau’s plans to possibly alter the composition of the court should be resisted. Convention is almost as important as the constitution and should be respected and defended.

Failure to follow convention is an affront to this region. It’s time the four Atlantic Provinces, our MPs and provincial legal groups take a united stand. This region is moving closer towards irrelevance unless a joint challenge or action is undertaken to force the PM to change his mind.

The unilateral decision by Mr. Trudeau must not go unchallenged. Atlantic Canada must defend its rights.

 

Justice Thomas Cromwell’s surprise announcement in March that he was retiring early from the country’s highest court Sept. 1 has thrown convention upside down. The respected Nova Scotia jurist was widely touted as the possible successor to Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

Convention should see Justice Cromwell’s position filled by an Atlantic Canadian. The constitution guarantees that three members on the bench come from Quebec, while convention ensures Ontario has three members, British Columbia one, the Prairies one and Atlantic Canada one.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped a bombshell in early August. The new process is to be open, transparent, and accountable – repeating the Liberal party platform. So far, so good.

RELATED: Russell Wangersky: Judge selection process raises red flags

An independent board will identify candidates “who are jurists of the highest caliber, functionally bilingual and representative of the diversity of Canada . . . Any qualified Canadian may apply.” Suddenly, Mr. Trudeau changed the ground rules.

The PM’s rationale and arguments are fine – to a point. The panel can apply them all – to the best qualified Atlantic Canadian. All Mr. Trudeau has to do is follow advice from the Canadian Bar Association, which argues that the highest court must continue to represent all regions of Canada, including Atlantic Canada.

The association urged the PM to amend the mandate of the advisory board to ensure that an Atlantic Canadian fills the vacancy. It’s quite simple, really.

When he selected his cabinet, Mr. Trudeau was big on regions and proportionality. Half his cabinet members are women to reflect Canadian demographics. Each province is represented by at least one MP. He saw the necessity that various regions of this vast, far-flung country be represented to offer balance around the table.

Decisions by the Supreme Court are no less important. Members of the court must include the best minds and abilities from each region. The PM’s idea of diversity differs from time-honoured convention. Diversity means recognizing regions.

Citing his background in constitutional law, P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan says that qualifications and regional perspective are important and both can be accommodated through an Atlantic Canadian when choosing someone to sit on the court.

The premier, who might be considered as a candidate for the court himself, hopes that candidates from Atlantic Canada are given “full consideration.”

That is insufficient. Mr. Trudeau’s plans to possibly alter the composition of the court should be resisted. Convention is almost as important as the constitution and should be respected and defended.

Failure to follow convention is an affront to this region. It’s time the four Atlantic Provinces, our MPs and provincial legal groups take a united stand. This region is moving closer towards irrelevance unless a joint challenge or action is undertaken to force the PM to change his mind.

The unilateral decision by Mr. Trudeau must not go unchallenged. Atlantic Canada must defend its rights.

 

Recent Stories