Monday, July 07, 2014

Going After The Courts


Lawrence Martin wrote last week  that the Supreme Court is the Harper government's real opposition. And today, in the Toronto Star, Tim Harper writes that it would not be a surprise if the prime minister went after the courts in the next election campaign:

This is a government determined to bring its brand of law and order to this country, whether it is cracking down on bogus refugee claimants, giving police more surveillance powers, bringing in mandatory sentencing, ending early parole or always going the extra mile to bring down the hammer in the name of victims’ rights.
In most cases, that agenda has crashed on the rocks of judicial challenges.

Over the weekend, Harper went after Justin Trudeau and, by extension, Trudeau's father, who gave Canada the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter has become the very bane of Harper's existence. Speaking in Calgary,

He fired away at Justin Trudeau, claiming the Liberal leader would “restore that key liberal principle of criminal justice, that the offender must be considered innocent even after being proved guilty’’
But, pre-election embellishments aside, Harper could have been talking about Canadian courts, not the Liberal party.

The number of Harper initiatives which have been successfully challenged in court is growing, the latest being judge Anne Mactavish's rejection of health care cuts for refugee claimants:

Mactavish (a Liberal appointee) called the reforms “cruel and unusual,” saying they breached refugees’ Charter rights, and that Conservatives endangered the lives of innocent and vulnerable children “in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency.”

Harper has never shied away from personal attacks -- on anyone. His recent attack on Beverley McLachlin underscores that point. We'll have to see if  other judges are next on his hit list.


The Mound of Sound said...

I don't think Harper would give Canadians a choice between himself and the Supreme Court of Canada. His ill-fated tussle with McLachlan showed Steve that Canadians trust their court over their prime minister, hands down. As for the Charter, every survey going back to the ascendancy of Harper shows the Charter is solidly supported by the Canadian public.

When it comes to pushing his far right agenda, Harper may be in Hudak-territory now.

Owen Gray said...

I hope your right, Mound. Although I'm not sure Harper understands just how much trust Canadians put in their courts and their Charter.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hudak was a wake up call for Harper and movement conservatism. The by-election results, especially in Fort Mac, were also a wake up call for the neo-cons.

If Harper's numbers don't improve soon I'm not convinced he'll lead his party into the 2015 poll.

I discussed this recently with my best Tory friend. I asked him if the recent kiss and tell books by Flanagan and Bruce Carson would have been released back when Harper was at his prime. He didn't think so.

We next discussed Harper's current PMO with Ray Novac as chief of staff. I asked if a prime minister facing a serious election contender would have his PMO staffed with a gang of kids. He sure didn't think so. Harper is either planning to leave and so doesn't care about getting a properly staffed PMO or he's gotten to the point where he simply can't attract the big talent like Wright or Brody. Either way it doesn't bode well for Stephen Harper.

The way he blundered into that business with the Chief Justice shows how weak his judgment can be and how badly Harper needs top-notch handlers.

Who knows? Maybe Harper wants to re-enact Lord Cardigan's folly at Balaclava.

Owen Gray said...

It wouldn't be the first time a self absorbed leader got it wrong, Mound.

Come to think of it, most politicians are not self aware enough to figure out when it's time to leave. They need to be pushed.

Scotian said...


If we were talking about a typical political leader of any stripe we have had in our past, I would be in large agreement with you. However, Harper has shown himself to be something truly atypical for us, and he is also clearly inside a massive bubble, and the fact that he has managed to gain the PMO and increase his seat count three times running by doing things his way despite what people kept saying may also be at work here. I am not sure he realizes he is in anywhere near as vulnerable a position, nor that Trudeau represents that much of a true/real threat to him as I believe he does, nor that his usual tool to weakening the Lib vote the NDP is looking as weak as it is for splitting the stop Harper/CPC vote.

I do agree with your comment about Harper being in Hudak territory is he chooses to make the courts/Charter an election issue, let alone a central issue. It is clear that the vast majority of Canadians feel the Charter is a powerful good thing, and that our courts while slow try to do the best by us instead of enacting political agendas, unlike what we see in the courts of our southern neighbour thanks to their choice of electing judges.

A key flaw of Harper's personality has always been his belief in his own superior intelligence and ability, which is why as you said he needs top level handlers to keep him steady, but it looks like he lost those over this time as a majority PM, and has been unable or unwilling to find quality replacements for them. So I can well see him going into the next election campaign as leader.

There is also the Trudeau hatred factor in his nature to consider. I really believe he not only hates Trudeau father and son, but that he sees the son as truly an easy target to paint and defeat, indeed use along with the courts to fire up his base and get another mandate out of. I happen to think that this line of thought is delusional myself, but then much of the way Harper perceives Canada I've thought fits that descriptor. So the chance to crush a Trudeau may be for him the great white whale he cannot resist hunting no matter what reason and good judgment may have to say about it.

As far as I am concerned, if Harper decides to use the courts as his theme for his next campaign he is almost certainly signing his political death warrant, and the more he tries to link Justin Trudeau and the Charter to that the more it will turn in his hand.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me? Harper has gathered up a vast number of ethnic votes. There are 413,000 Chinese in just Vancouver. 45,000 more want in. The Chinese are talking of suing Canada. Elizabeth May said? Harper's Omnibus Bill, permits China to sue Canada if, anyone tries to block China's huge inroads into our country. Elizabeth May also warned of, Harper's FIPA deal with China. I signed the petition against Harper on those issues. As did the F.N. people.

Harper's planeload of people he took to Israel? I expect the Canadian Jewish people, will also vote for Harper.

Then there are the Canadian Ukrainian people, that will likely vote for Harper.

Harper gave Poland the ship building contracts, that were to be built in BC. No doubt the Polish will vote for Harper too.

Harper still has time to give, chunks of Canada to other countries.

We all know? Harper never does anything, out of the goodness of his heart. Harper only does, what benefits Harper. And, Harper will sink to the lowest level, to do so. Harper is rabid to win the next election too. Harper very badly wants to be, a big shot on the International scene.

I won't be surprised if, Harper will find a way, to grab control of the Supreme Courts.

Owen Gray said...

I have only one thing to add, Scotian. If some of us on the left -- and I include myself in that crowd -- underestimated Harper, I think that this time out Harper is underestimating his opposition.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Anon, that Harper's foreign policy is all about buying votes at home.

But, so far, the courts have refused to kow tow to him.

Toby said...

Owen, your optimism, and that of your posters, is admirable. I, on the other hand, am very pessimistic. Harper and his more fanatical supporters will cheat. If they have to stuff ballot boxes they will. If we see a sudden roll-out of electronic balloting, we will know the fix is in.

Harper and his Cons are a shoe-in. In my riding, Dan Albas will win hands down. I know many people who are fed up with Harper but we can't vote for Harper and Albas does his best to not make enemies. Multiply this across the country and Harper isn't in a tough spot at all.

There has been much speculation over the years about who influenced Steven Harper's political strategy. My guess is Robert Mugabe. The lesson is to do whatever it costs, however unpalatable. Harper will cheat; count on it.

Owen Gray said...

Another commenter here, bcwaterboy, also lives in Albus' riding, Toby. It sounds like Albus is not going anywhere. So I understand your pessimism.

We also live in a solidly Conservative riding. I keep hoping that my neighbours -- who I enjoy but whose politics make me uncomfortable -- do not represent the majority of Canadians.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Scotian. Yeah, Harper might stick around for the 2015 runoff but with Novak and a gaggle of sycophants manning the PMO phones.

Harper defeated Martin on a referendum on Chretien's fiasco, the sponsorship scandal. He trounced Dion by making the election a referendum on Dion and his Green Shift. He drove Iggy into the ditch by again making the election a referendum on the boy from Harvard.

Three elections and not once has Harper had to defend his record, account for his failures, wear his scandals. What Harper couldn't achieve in his own right, a collaborative NDP did for him.

If Trudeau the Lesser has any mettle he won't let Harper get away with that stunt again. We'll see.

@ Anon. Harper had nothing to do with the BC ferry contract with Poland.

@ Toby. If you're right we should all be grateful that the SCC stands unbowed.

Scotian said...


Don't disagree with what you just said, with one caveat. Dion was actually managing to mostly hold his own until the closing days of the election when Mike Duffy abused his position at CTV to pull up raw footage of a Dion interview with ATV's Steve Murphy which was never supposed to be shown, just as is the case for many people interviewed, the raw footage doesn't give the best of appearances. I recall that one so well because I have never seen Murphy look that pissed and have to swallow something he clearly didn't want to in all the years he has been an anchor/reporter down here. I also remember how it seriously drove down Dion's final numbers. Now, without it he was clearly not necessarily going to beat Harper, but it would have been far closer and finish without that final smear job, and smear job it most clearly was. Of course right after that election suddenly Mike Duffy was Senator worthy material, funny that.

As to your point about Harper not running on a record, well this time he has no excuses, in the last election campaign he claimed he as unable to do what he wanted to because he had that minority and an intransigent Opposition in the House, and the minority before that it was the first time out. This time though he has had a full majority government and if anything he has shown unable to pass as much effective legislation now than he did in the minorities, and there is no way that the Libs and Trudeau are not going to hang that on him at every turn.

Harper also no longer has a powerful ally in the NDP with the power to help against the Libs the way they did during the last three elections, with Layton gone their appeal has clearly diminished, as well there are clear signs within the base that it is not as cohesive a party and voting block as it was under Layton (and even with him there was discontent with the Blairification happening, but because Layton was so well known and trusted a Dipper he could get away with it, Mulcair lacks that and it shows).

Trudeau is well positioned on many fronts, and I am not one of those that thinks he is an empty suit. I've been watching him closely since he first declared for the Lib leadership, and almost against my will I've been getting more and more impressed with him. He correctly identified the internal issues that needed fixing by a leader and has done quite the job there. He has also driven up fundraising for the Libs under the new rules which mean you need lots of small donors as opposed to the old big institutional ones the Libs were used to until Chretien made that change on his way out the door. I also think that while Trudeau is doing as much to stay on the positive side of things he is not afraid to counter-punch the Harper CPC message, but he is being smart in how he picks his battles, because so far none of the attacks the CPC has tried has worked, and if anything they have helped both the fundraising he does and his and the party's position in the polling data.

to be concluded...

Scotian said...


I also think the fact that he is not as polished as the other two actually works to his advantage more than not. Part of Mulcair's problem is that he sounds like a professional politician, indeed another lawyer wanting to be the boss, something that has a rather tired feeling for many and is not what feels like real change at the gut level. Trudeau also has been far less gaffe prone than the professional chattering class as well as his foes would have one believe, and what I think may be driving the CPC attack dogs mad with frustration is how people are willing to actually give Trudeau the benefit of the doubt.

I still maintain that watching the Brazeau-Trudeau boxing match tells you how Trudeau plans on playing this fight with Harper out, especially as the campaign picks up steam. Right now we are at the early punching himself out stage with the occasional jab back, but we are getting near the end of that. I suspect once the fall sitting starts we are going to start seeing a bit more aggression from Trudeau in that respect, especially since it looks like he has become the de facto LOO in the minds of the media, the voters, and the Harper government.

As an opposition party leader Trudeau's success as a leader have far outweighed his mistakes to date when you look at the totality of what his job entails and what he has been doing. I think his critics on both flanks who think he is an empty suit or another Palin are in for a nasty shock when they discover he is far more of a young wolf than the brainless sheep they clearly believe him to be. He may not have quite gotten his ability to watch out for gotcha moments in his off the cuff speaking, but it is nowhere near as bad as it gets made out to be from what I've seen. I've never forgotten that footage of him last year running into a woman in a store and having an debate on marijuana policy where she was a serious opponent of his policy (and it turned out the spouse of a CPC Cabinet Minister staffer, Toews I believe while he was still Justice Minister) for several minutes where he was informed, substantive, respectful, and showed great skill. I really think his foes should have paid attention to that moment, because it shows someone very different that what they have been trying to argue/define Trudeau really is.

The more his foes deride his ability to speak, the more it will rebound on them when he proves otherwise, especially during debates in the election. By lowering expectations so much they play into Trudeau's hands, and it is not like this is something unheard of in politics, so I have to think they really believe it, otherwise why take such a risk? I think Harper and the CPC in particularly truly believe their own spin on Trudeau and that I believe will be a fatal mistake. I suspect many on his left flank too have drunk the Kool-Aid with the Harperites on this one, and they too will suffer for it.