Conservatives are trying to politicize our courts
Sometimes, it pays to read past the headline. That’s certainly the case with a recent National Post story titled “Trudeau’s Law Society,” one that suggested “it’s no coincidence that more judges who donate to the Liberal party are brought to the bench than Conservative donors.” The Investigative Journalism Foundation, a news organization that partnered with Postmedia on the story, went even further by tweeting that its story “shows that the federal Liberals appear to be stacking the courts with their supporters.”
Thirteen paragraphs down, the reader — if they make it that far — discovers that only 18.3 per cent of the Liberal government’s 1,308 judicial appointees made a political donation, with 76.3 per cent of them having donated to the Liberals. That means 13.9 per cent of their appointees donated to the Liberals, with 86.1 per cent either not donating or donating to one of the opposition parties. “I’m not saying the data is a problem,” former Trudeau economic adviser and policy consultant Tyler Meredith tweeted, “but when 4 out of 5 people appointed aren’t contributing at all, to anyone, the favouritism angle looks far less than sensational header (sic).”
Ironically, this matches reporting from Postmedia back in 2010, which showed 66 of the 270 judges the Harper Conservatives had appointed at that point had made political donations, with 41 of them having donated to the Conservative Party of Canada. A further 25 had names that matched political donors — mainly Conservative ones — but couldn’t be verified as the same people. If you include them in the list, that’s 33.7 per cent of judicial appointees who were political donors, with 72.5 per cent of them donating to the CPC.
Postmedia’s editors clearly didn’t agree. Earlier this week, they published the second story in this ongoing collaboration, one that highlighted six Superior Court justices who had attended Liberal fundraisers “shortly before being appointed.” It beggars belief that any government would appoint someone to the bench because they attended a $1,625 fundraiser, and the reporting again ignores the pattern of appointment under the previous government, one that included former justice minister Peter MacKay appointing the best man at his wedding and an old friend of his father to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. As Press Progress reported back in 2015, MacKay had personal and financial ties to six of the nine appointments he made to Nova Scotia courts.
Same as it ever was, in other words. If anything, the Trudeau government has made important strides towards depoliticizing the appointment of judges. That’s particularly true of the ones sitting on the Supreme Court. By appointing former prime minister Kim Campbell to chair an independent advisory board that recommended a short list of candidates, constitutional expert and author Emmett Macfarlane argued: “Trudeau has introduced an advisory process that will limit his own discretion. A selection committee will be recommending him a set of names for consideration, so patronage and ideology are even less likely to dominate the process.”
Trudeau’s 2017 decision to appoint Richard Wagner as former chief justice Beverley McLachlin’s replacement speaks to that lack of partisanship on Canada’s highest court. After all, the prime minister who first appointed him to the Supreme Court was one Stephen Harper. “Cabinet ministers, as we all know, come and go,” former federal justice minister and University of Alberta professor of law Anne McLellan told the CBC back in 2017. “But the chief justice, once appointed, will be there, bar unforeseen situations, up until mandatory retirement.”
That Trudeau chose to put a Harper appointee in that most powerful of roles speaks to the reality that Canada’s high court is fundamentally different than the one in the United States, where justices almost never break ranks with the party that appointed them. So, too, do some of Trudeau’s other appointees to the Supreme Court, who include Nicholas Kasirer (who was first appointed to the Quebec Court of Appeal by Harper) and Malcolm Rowe (who advised Conservative Fisheries and Oceans Minister John Crosbie from 1986 to 1992).
We have, in other words, avoided the sort of overt politicization of our highest court that has come to define — and may eventually destroy — America’s democracy. And for some reason, Conservatives want to see that change. “We need to stop the Supreme Court from weakening people’s rights,” then-UCP leadership candidate and former federal Conservative MP Brian Jean said last year. “That means electing a Conservative prime minister, for certain, and understanding that selecting judges is the most important thing we can do….so we have people that align with our thoughts.”
David Parker, the founder of Take Back Alberta and a key player in the UCP government where Jean now sits as a minister, went even further. “The legal system in this country has been captured by radical leftwing extremists,” he tweeted, “who use it to impose their morality on the rest of the world. They must be stopped. We must remove these ideologues from all of our institutions, democratically.”
They fully intend, in other words, to weaponize Canada’s judiciary and the independent and apolitical appointment process that helps fill it out to further their own political ends. Expect that campaign to ramp up in the weeks ahead, as the Supreme Court is set to deliver its decision on the constitutionality of the Impact Assessment Act (a.k.a. Bill C-69) — one that Alberta’s Court of Appeal has already declared unconstitutional. As constitutional lawyer Martin Olszynski noted recently, “If that law is upheld as constitutional, expect a vicious but baseless smear campaign against our judiciary.”
It’s up to the rest of us to push back against that. Fighting for judicial independence may not be as sexy as battling for freedom or justice, but those are just two of the many things that can't and won’t exist without it.
Rich Kruger throws Justin Trudeau a lifeline
Of all the people to help the flailing federal Liberals, Suncor CEO Rich Kruger is just about the last one you’d ever expect to lend them a hand. But in his recent comments to shareholders, ones in which he suggested the oil company had done too much work on climate change and not enough on making money, he gave Steven Guilbeault and his boss a golden opportunity to finally find their footing.
That’s because Kruger’s sorry attempt at a Gordon Gekko impression makes him just the sort of cartoonish corporate foil they need to make their case for the oil and gas emissions cap they’ve been working on for a while now. ”To see the leader of a great Canadian company say that he is basically disengaging from climate change and sustainability, that he's going to focus on short-term profit, it's all the wrong answers," Guilbeault told Canadian Press reporter Mia Rabson earlier this week. “If I was convinced before that we needed to do regulation, I am even more convinced now."
The Pathways Alliance, the group of oilsands companies that has been furiously lobbying the federal government over the last two years, must be kicking themselves right now. For all the time and money they’ve spent trying to change the industry’s image and convince the public they’re working hard — or, at the very least, working — to reduce the oil industry’s ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions, Kruger just blew all that up.
After all, he’s given the federal government exactly what it needed: proof that these companies shouldn’t be taken at their word. Bringing in an ambitious cap on their emissions won’t be popular in Alberta, and Premier Danielle Smith will surely spin it as the latest assault on her province’s prosperity and constitutional freedom to pollute.
But why, exactly, should Trudeau and Guilbeault care about that? Taking a hard stand on this issue will be popular in the places where they most need to shore up their support, whether that’s Greater Vancouver, Greater Toronto or Quebec. It has the advantage of bringing Smith, a politician who’s deeply unpopular in those places, into the national spotlight. And it will almost certainly force Pierre Poilievre to defend the ground she stakes out, and further expose the extent to which he’s willing to sacrifice Canada’s climate goals in order to keep Alberta’s oil industry happy.
None of this guarantees re-election for the Liberals, of course, who are still getting badly beaten on everything from the cost of living to housing. But on climate, they still have a winning hand — one that was made far stronger by an American CEO’s unintentionally honest comments.
China bends the curve on oil demand
There are plenty of climate-conscious organizations predicting an imminent peak in oil demand, from Bloomberg to the International Energy Agency. But one you might not expect to make that call is Sinopec, the Chinese state-owned oil company that’s one of the biggest refiners in the world. And yet, earlier this month, it moved its predicted peak for Chinese gasoline demand up by two years to 2023 — yes, this year — based on the staggering adoption rate for electric vehicles in that country. As Bloomberg’s Colin McKerracher noted, “Sinopec knows the fuel business, and more importantly, it has an interest in the business remaining robust. Saying it’s all downhill from here for gasoline is quite a statement.”
Sinopec thinks diesel demand in China will keep growing for a little while longer, but even there you can see electrification chewing into oil and gas’s market share. “Electric, fuel cell and battery-swapping options have quickly climbed to 12% of light commercial vehicle sales,” McKerracher writes, “and 4% to 5% of medium and heavy commercial vehicle sales. That heavy-duty figure is likely to climb to over 10% by 2025.”
All told, this means that the single biggest driver of oil demand over the last two decades is about to flip into neutral — and soon after, reverse. Buckle up.
Want to save Canadian journalism? Put Postmedia out of its misery
As the federal government’s battle with Meta and Google over Bill C-18 continues to drag on, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that this won’t be the thing that saves Canadian journalism. It was never going to be, of course, but if the government isn’t careful, it could easily end up being the thing that inadvertently ends up hurting it, given the hit that some organizations (especially online upstarts — ahem) are already taking to their bottom lines. As such, I have a suggestion if the new heritage minister is looking for a way out of this: euthanize Postmedia instead.
It wouldn’t, and couldn’t, do that directly, for any number of obvious reasons. But by cutting off the government subsidies that it and other newspapers have become dependent upon, it would effectively force it to stand on its own two feet — ones that can no longer support the weight of its huge debt payments and bloated executive compensation. The Toronto Star, another major beneficiary of those bailouts, would also be in jeopardy here. So be it.
What Canadians need in 2023, after all, isn’t a printed newspaper with all the legacy infrastructure and overhead to match. What they need is good journalism that’s easily accessible, done by good journalists with professional training, on stories and subjects that matter to them. They need reporters who are willing to cover the beats, whether that’s local politics or investigative endeavours, that don’t automatically or easily make money. And they need governments that are willing to invest in the creation of new structures and systems that suit and serve the times rather than the maintenance of old ones that are being run over by them.
Maybe that means a more generous tax credit for Canadians who subscribe to some sort of news provider, whether that’s one with a left-wing environmentalist bent or a right-wing libertarian one. Maybe that means making it easier for journalism organizations to qualify for, and benefit from, charitable tax status. With a few exceptions — peddling conspiracies and hate speech, for example — it shouldn’t matter how Canadians choose to spend their news and information budget. That’s especially true if the CBC’s mandate is adjusted so it can focus more intently on local news and domestic cultural programming and stop competing for scarce advertising dollars with other media outlets.
The federal government needs to take some risks and try something new here, in other words. Sustaining the status quo, especially with respect to Postmedia, is really just about maintaining appearances — and animating an increasingly stiff corporate corpse. This is, after all, a company that routinely puts both its thumbs on the scale of coverage, whether that’s by trying to memory-hole Doug Ford’s Greenbelt scandal or printing convicted felon Conrad Black’s latest tender missive to his favourite fascist president (you know, the one that signed his pardon). It has cut the editorial departments at its remaining publications well past the bone, and merged the former Sun newsrooms it promised the Competition Bureau it wouldn’t.
And yet, like a dead tree obscuring the sunshine that would otherwise let the plants below it grow and thrive, its continued existence is diverting eyeballs and dollars that could be going to smaller right-of-centre upstarts like The Line or The Hub. That existence is almost entirely aimed at funnelling the company’s dwindling cash flows to servicing its debts, ones that are held primarily by a New Jersey-based hedge fund called Chatham Asset Management. Yes, removing it from fiscal life support would have consequences. But the consequences of continuing to keep it alive in its current state are much, much worse.
Good News of the Week: Climate Victories Worth Celebrating
After the summer we’ve had, it’s hard to feel good about the progress we’re making — or not making — on climate change. But as my friend Chris Turner wrote in the Globe and Mail, there are climate victories happening all around us if we know where (and how) to look. Whether it’s electric vehicle adoption rates, wind and solar investment, or new policy frameworks being implemented, the data tells a story that allows for some optimism. “The point is not any one of these data points,” Turner writes. “It is all of them, in a relentless rush, documenting a global embrace of climate solutions that has done nothing for more than a decade but vastly exceed expectations. This is what winning — or at least starting to win — looks like.”
Turner isn’t Pollyanna-ish about the challenge we face. He knows there are reasons to be disappointed or depressed by the things we aren’t doing yet. Yes, we’ve shifted the trajectory from potentially six degrees of warming to just over two degrees, but that’s still not enough to avert damage and disaster. Even so, he says, the climate-concerned have to learn how to be more vocal about celebrating the wins they see unfolding around them, even if they’re partial or insufficient ones. “People love to cheer for a winning team. People clamour to be part of a movement gathering speed and numbers — especially one racing to make the world better and provide durable long-term solutions for the anguish being felt this summer in communities hammered by heat waves and hurricanes and wildfire.”
Amen to that. I’d suggest buying his prize-winning book, How To Be a Climate Optimist: Blueprints for a Better World, if you haven’t already, and giving a copy to anyone you know who might be open to joining the fight. We need as many happy warriors as we can find, and we need them now more than ever.
On Tuesday, I wrote about the death of Sheila Lewis, an Alberta woman who trusted doctors enough to let them give her a life-saving organ transplant but refused to follow their directives around getting a COVID-19 vaccine first. She may have been a willing martyr for her cause, but she was done a tremendous disservice by the people around her who enabled and encouraged her fight against basic medical science.
I take this issue very personally. My father died on an organ transplant waiting list, and my mother-in-law is on a waiting list right now for a new heart. These organs are precious resources, ones that can’t be put at risk because some people don’t want to follow the same rules as the rest of us. They must be treated with the utmost care and respect, and Ms. Lewis’s steadfast refusal to do that made her doctors’ decision an easy one. That some conservative politicians seem incapable of understanding this — or, worse, are willing to pretend otherwise — does not speak well of them or their own moral compasses.
I’m off on a brief vacation until next Wednesday, so there won’t be any columns until the next newsletter. I’ve always found late August and early September to be a particularly melancholy time of year, what with the end of summer and the looming darkness of the fall. I hope you can also find some time to soak up as much of the remaining warmth and light as possible.