Edmonton Sun

November 14, 1999

Do the Liberals fear a backlash?

By TED BYFIELD
The Edmonton Sun

Beverley McLachlin, a good prairie-raised girl from Pincher Creek later transplanted to B.C., became chief justice of Canada this month, and you have to ask whether there was some sort of heart-to-heart talk before the appointment.

She's been on the court for 10 years and was only third in seniority. But the two ahead of her were both francophones and it was the turn to have an anglophone chief justice. That made her most eligible.

Then two days after her appointment something highly unusual occurred. In effect, she admonished her fellow jurists. While they must be "thick skinned" enough to suffer criticism of their decisions, she said, they must also consider how their rulings "play out in the real world."

"The idea that there is some law out there that has nothing to do with consequences is an abstract and inaccurate representation of what the law is. I think it is essential to good judging that the rule be sensitive to consequences and judges when they make rulings give some thought to how their rulings are going to fit into the institutional matrix of society."

Now think for a minute. The prime minister who appointed Justice McLachlin is currently riding astronomically high in the polls, so high as to make more astute Liberal strategists uneasy. They know that Canadian electors can be startlingly fickle, that we sometimes raise our leaders to a pinnacle of popularity, just before we dash them to pieces.

This happens when the public becomes suddenly aware of who these people really are. Kim Campbell was discerned to be a flake, Brian Mulroney to have made a closet deal with Quebec separatists, and "Uncle Louis" St. Laurent to be senile. All crashed suddenly.

Astute Grits (and some are very astute) are doubtless conscious that if things begin going wrong the same fate could overtake the seemingly indestructible "Uncle Jean" Chretien.

But what could go wrong? Any one of five current issues could bring down the government. They are:

1. Taxes. Canada's are now at some of the highest levels in the First World. They plainly discourage development. They have created a situation in which the standard of living to the south zooms wildly above ours.

What's worse, people are discovering this, and minimal tax cuts will only infuriate them. In short, there could be a tax revolt.

2. Natives. Two recent court decisions have in effect given a great deal of the country back to the Indians who are beginning to fish and cut timber as if they owned it. And why not? The court has said they do.

3. The courts themselves. They are now routinely ordering legislatures to enact this and amend that. The Ontario Legislature, for example, is currently amending a whole schedule of laws to conform to same-sex marriage benefits because the court told it to. Might Canadians awaken and ask: How in heaven's name can an appointed court order an elected legislature to do anything?

4. Sex. People are only now beginning to realize how far our "liberalization" has gone. The kiddie-porn possession case in B.C. has appalled millions and created a rebellion in the Liberal caucus. If the Supreme Court allows the possession of kiddie porn, that will definitely shake the government.

5. Parental rights. A law forbidding parents to physically coerce children will come before the court next year. In addition, Canada has signed a treaty denying parents the right to take any literature away from their children or to obstruct their children's "right of association," meaning whom they hang out with. Whether this treaty has the force of law in Canada will also be decided by the court.

It's noteworthy that four of these five issues involve judges and all could blow up in the government's face.

So one wonders what sort of chat was held with Justice McLachlin prior to her appointment? Was there a kind of deal, maybe? "We're giving you this job, Beverley, on the strict condition that you guys back off. We don't need this stuff."

Perish the thought anybody would talk to a Supreme Court appointee like that, you say? But then why the McLachlin lecture?

You wonder whether the other eight got the message. We'll soon know.


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Copyright © 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.