My optimism is alive but waning. I still firmly believe that this new minority government situation is a golden opportunity for all of the federal political parties to demonstrate to Canadians their willingness to work together in the best interests of Canada.
Unfortunately, one of the pre-conditions in creating a positive and productive environment when Parliament resumes sitting this Fall, is a willingness by Prime Minister Paul Martin to set a cooperative and conciliatory tone. He must immediately take concrete steps to make good on his promise to balance the democratic deficit. He?s not off to a good start.
Mr. Martin has been preoccupied with rewarding Liberal MPs who stepped aside to allow him to circumvent democratic nominations and appoint his own hand-picked star candidates for the June election. Former Quebec Liberal MP Yvon Charbonneau is Canada?s new ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. Former Liberal MP John Harvard is Manitoba?s new lieutenant-governor.
Taxpayer-funded prizes also went to defeated Heritage Minister Hélène Scherrer who is now the principal secretary in the Prime Minister?s Office. And Avis Gray, one of the Prime Minister?s star candidates and a former campaign manager for Treasury Board Minister Reg Alcock, will now be paid between $100,000 and $200,000 per year as a government relations rep for the Canadian Wheat Board, which falls under Mr. Alcock?s responsibilities.
That?s just the tip of the patronage iceberg. Contrary to the Prime Minister?s promises of democratic reform, it?s business as usual for the Liberal government when it comes to federal appointments. Which brings me to the so-called ?new? process for appointing Supreme Court judges.
Paul Martin promised greater input by Parliament into the Supreme Court appointment process. Yet the process used to appoint Rosalie Abella and Louise Charron late last month was severely flawed. A mixed committee of MPs and non-elected legal stakeholders were allowed to interview the Justice Minister for one day about the Prime Minister’s choices to fill Supreme Court vacancies.
The Conservative Party and opposition MPs are not looking for veto power, but the Prime Minister has maintained absolute power and 100% control over the process. And, I?m not making any judgements about the qualifications of Ms. Abella and Ms. Charron, but just as you wouldn?t hire someone without speaking to them in person, the nominees themselves should have at least appeared before the committee.
Furthermore, the nominees? names weren?t even released until the day before the committee members met. Supreme Court judges play an ever-increasing role in shaping the very fabric of our society. Canadians? elected representatives need to adequately examine their credentials and history. Unfortunately just like his predecessor, Prime Minister Martin?s idea of an appointment process is a rubber stamp!
I believe that Canadians were expecting ? and deserve ? meaningful democratic reform, not superficial window dressing and an ongoing stream of patronage appointments.
If MPs are to succeed in establishing a positive and constructive Parliament, and making it last, then it?s up to Paul Martin to look beyond his own partisan best interests and instead start looking out for the nation?s best interests.