31 March 2016

A meritless position #nlpoli

The new provincial Liberal administration has made the creation of a merit-based system of cabinet appointments the centre-piece of its first session of the House of Assembly.

The bill to give effect to their policy is not perfect but by the time it clears the House later this spring,  the province will have a long way from the pernicious practice of the former administration   - from 2003 onwards is one administration - of appointing people chiefly on their ability to follow directions from the Premier's Office.

Merit is the Liberal watchword and we should all be cheering a system that will base choices as they should be, that is on qualification, and dismiss irrelevant considerations.  If the Conservatives or New Democrats can improve the Liberal bill, then the Liberals should accept the amendments and move us all forward.  We would all be better off for it.

How strange it is then, that a senior minister in the administration for merit should push the federal government to make an appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada on the basis of anything but merit.

Attorney General Andrew Parsons issued a news release on Wednesday to tell the world he had told o his federal counterpart that the next justice of the Supreme Court of Canada "should come from Newfoundland and Labrador."

We should appoint judges to the Supreme Court of Canada based on their merit as judges. The province where the judge lives or in which he or she was born is totally irrelevant.  The only supreme court judges appointed from a particular province are the three from Quebec but those are appointed based on the need to have judges familiar with the civil law system of that province, not geography or race.

Parsons does not merely undermine his own administration's emphasis on merit.  Nor does he merely taint the public impression of a person from Newfoundland and Labrador, should he or she prove to be the appointee.

Parsons' argument, on behalf of the current administration actually proposes that decisions  by the Supreme Court of Canada should be made on a basis other than the law and the Constitution.  "We are the only province to have never had an individual appointed to sit as a Supreme Court of Canada Justice,"  Parsons said, "while decisions made by the Court have direct impacts on the daily lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

"As we near the 67th anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador becoming Canada’s 10th province, this government firmly believes that the time has come for a Supreme Court of Canada Justice from this province.”  Parsons’ letter advances no stronger an argument than that each province has a right to a Supreme Court appointment as a matter of entitlement, not merit.

The letter and news release are so devoid of any substance - and in places so poorly written - that one can only conclude that someone else wrote them for Parsons and that he is putting an argument forward for someone else.  The letter and release are the kind of vacuous nonsense stuff that would stir the heart of some blowhard Newfoundland nationalist who lost two elections back to back in the space of three months.

They are not the sort of argument one would expect from Parsons. The smart young lawyer has risen quickly since first being elected in 2011 and in a few short months, there are signs he has started to shake up a very troubled department.  Frankly, that's what Parsons ought to be doing:  shaking up the justice department some more.  Rather than fronting embarrassing letters, Parsons' time would be better spent finding a couple of reports commissioned by the Conservative administration from retired justice Bill Marshall,  that - apparently - have vanished into thin air.  One of them,  seemingly never done, was supposed to give effect to a recommendation from former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Lamer's inquiry into three wrongful convictions in this province.  Maybe someone should interrupt Jerome Kennedy's screed scribbling and ask him about that.

Implementing the long-overdue recommendation from the Lamer commission is the sort of thing a fellow like Andrew Parsons should be doing rather than taking a meritless position.