Why the Government has gone too far: An Analysis of the Harper’s Government handling of the Canadian Wheat Board Case.

 

  • All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Edmund Burke PC (1729– 9 July 1797) 

I have never been a rabid partisan. While, I love a good argument, I can easily say that I do not agree or disagree with everything that any political party does. The Liberal Party is not perfect and neither is the Bloc Quebecois, the NDP or the Conservative Party. I just tend to agree with the Liberal Party – as a whole – more than I disagree with them. That is why I am a Liberal.

 

With that being said, this present Conservative Party has some valid policy points. For example, even though I think that they addressed Canadian Citizenship in the wrong way, it is important that the issue be addressed. The same goes for Government Programmes that have outlived their usefulness. 

However, on balance, this Conservative Government has done more harm than good. They have ignored scientific, academic and professional advice when constructing policy. This includes dealing with tax policy, criminal law, climate change and economic policy. They ignored Academics, Police Officers and victim rights activists in eliminating the Gun Registry.

 

The Conservatives pitted Academics against police officers to pass their amendments to the Criminal Code, rather than having a decision about them. Consequently, Canada is the only jurisdiction in North American that is considering more extreme punishment for crime. Texas and California are just two jurisdictions whose criminal law is becoming less penal in nature. They want to become like Quebec in this sense. For, Quebec has some of the lowest crime rates in the country and they believe in more rehabilitation and fewer penal penalties. Canadian and European experiences tell the same tale, a system of penal rehabilitation tends to reduce crime and not increase it. Yet, the Conservatives ignored this reasoning.  

It is not surprising that the Canadian Federal Structure now has a structural budgetary deficit or a Government of a different persuasion will have to fix the problems caused by the Harper Government. With this all being said, this is how our system is supposed to work. Therefore, with a heavy heart, I have to point out one now glaring issue: the Canadian Wheat Board.

 

Again, I must remind everyone, I am not a rabid partisan. So, while I understand the economic theory behind the Wheat Board, I can understand that there is more to the conversation than just economics. There are political issues like responsibility and accountability. There are philosophical issues like freedom and the right to succeed and/or fail in a way that someone chooses. Free Will has driven European culture for 3000 years, so these things are important. However, they should all be done legally and this government has not done that. 

This is why, with a heavy heart, I must say that a Minister in this Government has acted with “disregard for the rule of law”. Well, I am actually quoting Judge Campbell of the Canadian Federal Court. That is what he thought of the approach of the Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz in regard to Mr. Ritz’s amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

 

When presented with such a Breach Declaration from the Federal Courts, the Minister did almost nothing. While, he did appeal the decision, he continued to push through this legislation. This, one can argue, is a prima facia case for a criminal act. As I noted in an earlier blog, Actus Rea and Mens Rea are necessary to commit a criminal act. The crime here, as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada, is disregarding an Act of Parliament. My argument is that the Minister had to have known that he was in disregard of the law because a Federal Court said he was and he responded to that. In a piece written for the Winnipeg Free Press, republished by Canada.com, called “Federal Court ruling on wheat board bill won’t alter decision: Ritz” (December 7, 2011), Minister Ritz is quoted. 

Ritz said the federal government is “disappointed with the decision” and the government plans to appeal. But the minister dismissed the significance of the judge’s ruling, saying “this declaration will have no effect on continuing to move forward for freedom for western Canadian farmers.”

 

While Bruce Johnstone of Postmedia News reported, in an article entitled “Gerry Ritz celebrates passage of `historic’ bill to end 68-year-old CWB monopoly”, that Mr. Ritz said the following: 

“First they said it shouldn’t be done. Then they said it couldn’t be done. Then they said it wouldn’t be done because they’ll take us to court,” said Ritz, referring to supporters of the Canadian Wheat Board, who have taken Ritz and the Harper government to court over Bill C-18.

 

“But here we are. Finally you have marketing freedom,” Ritz told cheering farmers at the Strudwick farm. 

This is a clear indication of the Ministers felt that the judge’s ruling was unimportant.  And this is not the first question about the Harper Governments’ disregard for the rule of law.  While, the Speaker felt that he could not act, Andrew Scheer made his feelings known. His opinions were reported by CBC.ca in a piece entitled “’Reprehensible’ calls about Cotler beyond Speaker’s power”.  It was posted on Dec 13, 2011.

 

Scheer says the strategy is “reprehensible” but outside his authority. He says he’s entirely sympathetic to Cotler and that there’s no doubt Cotler has been bombarded by calls and emails from confused constituents. 

But Scheer said he has difficulty concluding Cotler hasn’t been able to carry out his parliamentary duties, and that that is the key issue in a question of privilege.

 

“I can understand how [Cotler] and others are seeking relief from the climate of cynicism — not to say contempt — about parliamentary institutions and practice that seems to prevail. But I fear that such relief is not within my gift: the Speaker’s powers in these matters are limited, as my predecessors have repeatedly stated,” he said. 

Scheer cited a ruling by Speaker John Fraser from almost exactly 20 years before.

 

Or look at the Postmedia News article entitled,“Tory phone calls didn’t breach Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s parliamentary privileges, speaker rules”.  It was posted on Dec 13, 2011. 

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives did not breach the parliamentary privileges of Liberal MP Irwin Cotler by organizing a telephone polling campaign in his Montreal riding which spread erroneous reports about his resignation, according to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

 

The ruling by Andrew Scheer came Tuesday after the daily Question Period in Parliament. Mr. Scheer ruled that the Tories’ polling campaign in Mr. Cotler’s riding, though “questionable” and “reprehensible,” did not impair his ability to do his job as an MP. 

Now what is interesting about the Speaker’s ruling is that he noted that he could not enforce Canadian Election Law on the House. Consequently, the Liberal Party has had to go to Elections Canada for a ruling. Gloria Galloway of the Globe and Mail.com – in an article entitled, Liberals press elections watchdog to rule on ‘reprehensible’ Cotler calls – reported the following:

 

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae wants the head of Elections Canada to investigate the possibility the Conservatives broke the law by falsely telling constituents in Irwin Cotler’s riding the veteran MP was preparing to resign and a by-election would be held.  

In a letter Friday to Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, Mr. Rae points out the Canada Elections Act states: ‘No person shall knowingly publish a false statement of the withdrawal of a candidate.’”

 

Through all of this, a quote from a famous Conservative has gone through my head:  ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ The quote is attributed to Edmund Burke, but it has a lot of value for us all. So I say to the party, how much more are Parliamentarians willing to take.  

This Conservative Party and the the Conservative Fund has already been found guilty of violating the Elections Act. According to the CBC, they were charged $52,000. An Auditor General’s Report found that the government “did not clearly or transparently” explain how the money was going to be spent when it sought Parliament’s approval for a G8 legacy fund for Tony Clement’s riding, while the RCMP investigation on the same issue has gone nowhere.

 

So where is a “Good Man” supposed to go when there is a clear breach of criminal law occurring and no one else can be called: go to the Courts. The thinking is simple. A precedent needs to be set. No office holder – either member of the Royal Family, Governor General, Minister, Premier or Prime Minister – should be above the law; especially criminal law. This is the clear understanding behind the principle of the rule of law. As a party, we need to defend this principle before all others. If it cannot be done through the executive or legislative arms, we should proceed through the judicial one. 

As Judge Campbell noted, the amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act are clearly illegal because the Minister did not follow the existing legislation. Minister Ritz was asked by the Canadian Wheat Board and a Federal Court to follow the law. He blazingly refused. That must be a criminal act and we should proceed in the following way.

 

The Liberal Party should go to the Federal Court and seek a ruling as to whether the Minister was correct in the way he introduced legislation into the House of Commons. If Judge Campbell was right, the Minister will be found to have been in personal breach of the law by the Supreme Court. At that point, the Crown should be sued for not bring charges against one of its ministers’ for not following the law of the land. That should be sufficient cover for the Federal bureaucracy to act on its own. 

This will bring many questions forward. For example, did the Minister or Prime Minister recommend that the Governor General give Royal Assent to the legislation or did the Governor General act on their own? Is the Prime Minister responsible?  This might sound like crazy talk I admit. Canada is not some colonial backwater. We are not a tin pot dictatorship. However, if the Government is acting criminally what else can we do? In France, a raft of people were charged in the light of government reactions to the HIV/AIDS crisis. This included the Prime Minster Laurent Fabius. While acquitted of responsibility, his actions were reviewed. Are we so different? I do not think we are.

 

The rule of law is central to our system of government. It should be upheld at all costs. If, we cannot hold Ministers to the same standards as the rest of us, the admission of justice will be “brought into disrepute”. My hope is, as a party, we will move forward in pursuing this action and not hoping that “other good men” will step up and defend our democracy.

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