When he was a candidate for the Liberal leadership in 2003, Paul Martin promised to do something about the “democratic deficit.” He said he would implement an accountable and transparent process to appoint judges and end the practice of rewarding political cronies with plum appointments. On both counts, he has broken his promise.
In August 2004, Martin appointed a pair of radical feminists to the Supreme Court – Louise Charron and Rosalie Abella – without a serious parliamentary hearing or public vetting of these new justices. Justice Minister Irwin Cotler appeared before an ad hoc committee to congratulate the government on its choices for Supreme Court justices by way of explaining before parliamentarians its decision on whom to appoint.
This summer, Cotler announced that the process has been changed – a tacit admission that the previous system was a sham – and that the public can suggest candidates to replace retiring Justice John Major. Cotler will provide a list of eight candidates to a nine-person committee of parliamentarians, lawyers and two members appointed by the Cotler himself. That committee will recommend three names to the prime minister, who will name one of them to the Supreme Court. As the Globe and Mail said, “The new system does not add any openness to the secretive system that already existed.” An editorial in that paper suggested that anything short of judicial appointees facing questions from a parliamentary committee is insufficient.
About those political appointments, Martin has not done better. Over the past year, the prime minister has appointed numerous cronies – former staffers, friends, political loyalists and Liberal party functionaries – to the Senate. The most grievous of these appointments is that of Francis Fox, a cabinet minister under Pierre Trudeau and Martin’s former principal secretary.
Upon naming Fox to a top job in the all-powerful Prime Minister’s Office in 2003, Martin described him as a man of integrity. We wonder whether Martin forgot or didn’t care that in 1978, Fox was forced to resign as federal solicitor-general after admitting he committed fraud when he signed someone else’s name on a hospital document in order to procure an abortion for a woman with whom he was having an adulterous affair. (The name he signed was that of the woman’s husband.) The incident made the list of the CBC’s 10 worst scandals in political history released earlier this year, ranking number three overall.
Fox’s actions temporarily disqualified him from Trudeau’s cabinet, although he was later re-admitted as the communications minister after a short time in political purgatory. But Martin, who ran as a man who would restore integrity to Canadian politics, should hold those who work for him and whom he appoints to lifetime sinecures to a higher standard. Neither Fox’s fraudulent actions in 1978 to help his mistress procure an abortion, nor his time of loyal service to Paul Martin, are the type of qualifications in keeping with the current prime minister’s promise to name qualified men and women of integrity to the chamber of “sober second thought.”
When it comes to judicial and Senate appointments, Martin has demonstrated that it is business as usual. Canadians deserve better.