Bloggers note: all underlined is mine for emphasis... all this reported on iPolitics.ca
Justin Trudeau, as his many fans like to remind us, is a "listening" kind of prime minister. (The last guy was more of a "Pipe down, I'm talking" kind of prime minister). He's fond of consultations; his government is running over 100 of them right now, on everything from housing policy to endangered species. And with consultations come councils, panels and whole new bestiaries of mandarins and policy czars — all appointed by Liberals.
Taking politics out of government? What an awful idea.
The mandarin class is proliferating unchecked on Trudeau's watch
“The appointment of a Supreme Court justice is one of the most important decisions a prime minister makes. It is time we made that decision together.”
That’s what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to say in the Globe and Mail this week, as his government announced plans to overhaul the Supreme Court appointment process. Trudeau said he would “open up the process” and allow “any Canadian lawyer or judge who fits the criteria” to apply. He made a commitment to transparency: “… the members of the advisory board, the assessment criteria, the questionnaire that all applicants must answer, and certain answers provided to the questionnaire by the Prime Minister’s eventual nominee, will all be made public to Canadians.”
As for Canada’s elected representatives, “participating MPs will be given a week to prepare for a special justice and human-rights committee hearing, where the Minister of Justice and the chair of the appointments committee will explain why the nominee was selected.
To further meet our commitment to transparency, we will invite the members of the House and Senate committees, and representatives of all parties with seats in the House, to take part in a Q&A session with the nominee, moderated by a law professor.”
Which all sounds very nice. In truth, it does little to improve on the current process. In some ways, it makes it worse.
For starters, MPs will still have no power at all to reject the proposed nominee. And the real work of vetting this person will be done by that unelected advisory board, made up of a chair named by the prime minister, four representatives named by the legal community and three by the justice minister — none of whom will be vetted by MPs. The tradition of regional balance on the high court has gone out the window as well: Throw in the new bilingualism requirement and you could end up with nine judges from Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick — not exactly the “diverse bench” the prime minister, or Canadians, probably have in mind.
Or maybe it’s exactly what the PM has in mind. Look beyond Trudeau’s Supreme Court overhaul and you see a far more extensive reimagining of the shape of the state. And it should worry not only MPs — who are seeing their power subverted bit by bit — but the citizens who elect them, who (paradoxically) will have less of a say than before.
Prime Minister Trudeau wants to take the politics out of government — and that’s not a good thing. Under the cover of non partisanship and consultation, Trudeau is creating a new layer of government — a super-bureaucracy of committees and forums appointed directly by the Prime Minister’s Office. Right now there are over 120 consultations listed on the government’s ‘Consulting with Canadians’ website, on topics as obscure as preserving the wood bison and as broad as a national housing strategy.
From the Supreme Court to the Senate, from First Nations to youth, the plan is to create whole new ecosystems of councils, commissions and application processes, staffed by a legion of grateful appointees, advisors and consultants who will carry the Liberal vision into the future.
In doing so, Trudeau is taking power away from the people. They may think that their voices count; they’ll have the chance to present their views to committees on electoral reform, to the Royal Commission on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. They’ll be able to apply for Supreme Court positions and Senate seats. They can talk directly to Trudeau via Google Chats and in CBC ‘Ask the Prime Minister’ specials. They’ll be heard (we’re told) by a leader who wants to listen.
But dig deeper, and it becomes clear that this is nothing other than an elitist exercise designed to benefit the Liberal party, its friends and those who subscribe to its ideals. Does anyone really think that the new ‘Youth Council’ will be composed of members who challenge government orthodoxy? And while new senators may be independent in party terms, will they be independent in thought? Or will they all share the same vision as the committee that recommends them — a committee that itself is a reflection of the Liberals’ fondness for redistribution and for seeing government as the solution to every problem?
Trudeau appears to be aping the United States’ czar system, which allows the president to put hand-picked bureaucrats at the heart of government. The practice was started by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who appointed 11 “economic czars” to tackle the Great Depression. It continued under subsequent administrations, but was not a significant factor until the government of Barack Obama. Obama appointed 38 czars, most of whom did not require confirmation by the Senate, thereby reducing the power of the legislature and increasing the president’s own clout. Like Trudeau, Obama named many of these czars early in his presidency, prompting concerns that he was creating a system exempt from Congressional oversight and subject to conflict with existing advisory mechanisms.
The public likely will embrace Trudeau’s way of governing — and for this, he can thank Stephen Harper. The former PM also sought to refashion the Canadian state, but in a far clumsier and high-handed fashion. Instead of couching his changes in popular consultation, he shrouded them in secrecy, creating enemies in the media, the bureaucracy and a large swath of the electorate.
This made it easy for Trudeau to appear “open and inclusive” by comparison — and created a public appetite for consultation that is now being roundly exploited by the current government.
In both cases, it was MPs — the people elected to serve the citizens who empowered them — who got the short end of the stick. Under Harper, they were muzzled; under Trudeau, they’re being subverted.
Somewhere between the previous cone of silence and the current orgy of consultation lies a balance that puts MPs and the electorate at the heart of the national conversation. Let’s hope the current government — or a future one — finally manages to find it.
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