It’s getting more than a little tiresome watching our partisan prime minister put on a show about how all these things he’s doing are non-partisan. Because of course they’re not.
The latest such glorious initiative: On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government is changing the way Supreme Court justices are selected. And former PM Kim Campbell has been appointed to chair the new advisory board.
Making these sorts of changes to the highest court in the land is a big deal. Whatever the pros and cons of Trudeau’s plan, it deserves to be vigorously debated in the days ahead. But they’ve certainly done their best to deter that from happening. That’s because, the Liberals tell us, the selection process will be “independent and non-partisan.” And who in their right mind could ever argue with that?
It’s one of the Trudeau Liberals’ favourite sleight-of-hand tricks. They did it with the Senate appointment process, they implied it with the electoral reform process and they’re set to do it with the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
But of course it’s all partisan. None of these policies have been randomly drawn from a hat of ideas put forward by the most non-partisan public servants and academics. They’ve all been handpicked by Liberals … y’know, partisan Liberals. And when the PM appoints a senator or judge – even if he’s going along with an advisory panel’s choices – he’s making a partisan decision by virtue of the fact he’s an elected Liberal. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t kid yourself and the rest of us about it.
As Duff Conacher, visiting professor at University of Ottawa and co-founder of Democracy Watch, told media earlier this year the whole idea the Senate appointment process is non-partisan is itself a “partisan facade.”
Here’s where it gets problematic and a touch Orwellian though: it unnecessary chills debate and vilifies the opposition. If you neutralize the concept of partisanship, at least as it applies to yourself, it has the effect of making anyone who doesn’t 100% agree with you right away look hyper-partisan. This rhetorical schtick is already driving the Conservatives and NDP crazy. And it’s getting worse.
This new Supreme Court selection model might soon be held up by legal experts and scholars to be as good as Trudeau says it is. And the opposition, after voicing the initial criticisms that they’re practically duty bound to make, may willfully fall into line too. But they’ll all come to that conclusion on their own.
When you’re changing how senators are selected, how we vote and, now, how we pick Supreme Court judges, you’re changing the very fabric of Canada. There is no path to such radical change aside from the partisan one.
Don’t forget, this is the PM who stormed across the House of Commons in the lead up to an important vote to yank an opposition MP by the elbow and drag him back to his seat. It doesn’t get much more partisan than that.