Globe and Mail

Don't D-E-L-A-Y in reforming the Divorce Act

Ottawa is wrong to put off adopting new rules for parents after a divorce

Friday, May 14, 1999
ROBERT MATAS,
The Globe and Mail

Federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan's decision to delay changes to the Divorce Act was not popular in the West, especially in British Columbia. Both Vancouver dailies took a harsh view of the announcement of a deadline of May 1, 2002, for submission of a comprehensive review to Parliament on access, custody and support payments. (The central question is whether the law should require divorced parents to share the parenting of their children.)

Legislative dodging hurts the children of divorce, says The Vancouver Sun. The minister's decision to postpone changes will please very few, beyond fans of those who advocate avoiding decisions in order to survive in politics. "The Justice Minister looks as if she has dodged the hard questions concerning access in hope that in four years someone else will hold the portfolio and have to face up to them."

The Province is equally dismissive. Ms. McLellan says the delay will give Ottawa time to consult with the provinces, the newspaper notes. "That's never held them back before."

Families in transition need family laws that reflect rapidly changing roles in their relationships, it says. "The 1990s dad has a right -- and a duty -- to take on equal parenting responsibilities." Family legislation must not only recognize dual parenting responsibility, but also enforce it.

The Time Colonist in Victoria calls the proposed changes "an urgent necessity." On the day Ms. McLellan announced the postponement, the paper urged divorce reform more for the sake of the children than of their parents. "The current system encourages enmity and meanness that can scar the relations between parents and children for the rest of their lives."

In Manitoba, The Daily Graphic in Portage la Prairie told readers that the 31-year-old Divorce Act needs a tune-up. "Driving it for another three-plus years means only more injuries along the way."

Why does Ottawa need more time to consult, the paper asks. Well, it suggests, maybe Ms. McLellan is opting for "the slow, reasoned, rational approach," ensuring that she gets the legislation right the first time. That approach may be sensible, the paper writes, but she is allotting far too much time. "The minister should be setting a three-to-six-month window for provincial and territorial approval and push to have the legislation in place by this time next year."

The Winnipeg Free Press was a lone voice in welcoming the delay. "The divorce law as it exists already works well for the vast majority of couples in Canada who chose to separate," the paper says. "It does not work well for a few, but those few cases are so bitter and sometimes so highly publicized that they have resulted in intense pressure on government to change the law to accommodate them."

The Free Press says the law does not need radical surgery. Some tinkering may be helpful for the courts that deal with those bitterly fought cases, it writes, but maybe no law can ever be either general enough or specific enough to defuse the effects of a man and a woman intent on being bloody-minded.

"Children will always suffer in a divorce; they will suffer especially in a vengeful divorce, and no law, however well-intentioned, is likely to be able to prevent that."

Albertans can't vote in the Ontario election, but that doesn't mean they can't cheer from the sidelines. Edmonton Sun columnist Neil Waugh believes a victory for Mike Harris's Progressive Conservatives is vital to Alberta.

It's clear that Alberta Premier Ralph Klein is pulling for the Tories to win the election for reasons other than the fear of losing a golfing buddy at the next premiers conference, he says. As Mr. Klein first pointed out, Alberta fuels Ontario, and anything that is good for the Ontario economy is good for the Alberta economy.

Mr. Waugh also asks readers to remember when Ontario's then-premier Bill Davis was a bitter foe of Alberta premier Peter Lougheed's demand for world oil prices for the province's oil. "That's why the Klein/Harris alliance is so important in dealing with Alberta's traditional political enemy. Having the premier of Canada's most powerful province lined up with the country's traditional political bad boy can't do any harm." Patriotism trumps parochialism for The Province in Vancouver when it comes to hockey. "It hurts but, given we have no choice, getting behind the Toronto Maple Leafs in their bid for the Stanley Cup at least allows us to indulge in a measure of patriotic pride."

But the paper is quick to add that, even if it must be Toronto it cheers for, that doesn't mean it has to like anything else about the city. "Oh sure, its economy is booming and building cranes again festoon the downtown skyline. But have you been there lately?"

Western Voices is compiled weekly by Robert Matas, a member of The Globe and Mail's B.C. bureau.

Copyright © 1999 The Globe and Mail