Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Good Sense Notwithstanding

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Golden Tacks (Thursday January 12, 2006 at 10:47 pm)

Getting folks riled up can be tough. Sometimes, they just don’t seem to care.

Confronted with that problem, Paul Martin responded with an idea so novel, he hadn’t bothered to include it in his election platform: prohibit the federal government from using the notwithstanding clause.

Is it a clever tactic, as the Hamilton Spectator suggests? Could it be that it will let Martin expose Harper’s position on various rights by accusing him of wanting to keep the clause so as to use it?

Perhaps, but it’s not worth the costs.

Canadians haven’t forgotten the trials and tribulations of a decade of constitutional wrangling. The prospect of reintroducing constitutional debate is hardly appetizing, especially given that most Canadians understand the political costs of using the clause. Given Martin’s performance so far this campaign, it’s unlikely he can wield a backbiting sword with the necessary skill to find his target.

Martin is again trying to present himself as a defender of the Charter of Rights. He’s not — that’s the Courts’ job. If he were so very disposed to defend it, why would his government have appealed the Court of Appeal’s decision in Harper v. Canada? Once the court determined that the Charter was violated by the electoral gag law, shouldn’t he have rushed to defend it? What exactly does this duty of defence amount to? Surely not selective policy advancement — that would just be cynical.

But to the point. Isn’t it notable that no other party has voiced support for the proposal (including the NDP)? They’ve got good reasons.

Could the notwithstanding clause be used to impose restrictions on child pornography? If necessary, yes. Could it be used to overrule the Supreme Court’s decision that convicts must be allowed to vote? If the public supports it, yes. Is giving up this flexibility worth an unlikely and minimal political benefit?

Only in a situation of extreme and dire desperation.

Besides which, Canadians are surely on to this ploy. If it’s that easy to stop the federal government from using the clause, isn’t it just as easy for another federal government to restore that power (don’t think too hard — the answer’s not well-hidden)?

Ah, but why think? Our leaders clearly don’t bother to, and they’re in charge.

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