Thursday, August 23, 2012

Benchquest: The what to do with Vic Toews saga rolls on

Updated (9:15 p.m.) below.

Just reading Tim Harper's latest, hot off the internets: "Vic Toews and his quest for the bench." This part jumped out:
The Court of Appeal post is a federal appointment and Harper is believed to have told Toews that he would not appoint his minister directly to the bench.
Instead, he would be expected to take a cooling-off period before any appointment to the bench.
If that was the PM's initial instinct, that Toews would not be appointed "directly to the bench," that is a good instinct and he should stick with it. The column goes on to note Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's recent comments to the Canadian Bar Association on the matter as representing a possible change in Harper's view. These remarks in particular:
“I’ve never gone out of my way to say that certain groups of individuals — people who have served, for instance, in political office — should be eliminated or sit out or anything else,” he told delegates. “On a hypothetical basis, I have never gotten into the business of eliminating any individuals or groups of individuals.’’
I think people may be attributing too much emphasis to the inclusion of the words "sit out" and are reading into them the notion of a cooling off period and that it is now out the window. I heard "eliminated" and "sit out" as synonyms there.

Mr. Harper seems to be aware of the blow back that would be imminent and he should indeed be wary. It's not something to shrug shoulders about. Mr. Harper has to know that an immediate appointment of Toews to the bench would be an infamous appointment.

If he does go the cooling off route, Mr. Toews would require a significant cooling off period. Entry back into the legal profession for some time would be a starter, for example, where he might demonstrate even-handedness in his activities. Some of us, as you might guess, would forever have doubts about the impartiality of Mr. Toews as a future judge and would prefer an indefinite cooling off period.

The mentioned possibility of a restart on the internet surveillance legislation would also be very welcome. Like all things with this government, even that is to be carefully watched.

And in terms of other political calculations, if Mr. Toews does depart, we could be talking five federal by-elections in the offing. Durham (Oda), Calgary-Centre (Richardson), today's news on Victoria (Savoie), possibly Etobicoke-Centre depending on the Supreme Court, and...Provencher? Enhancing the optics and possibly setting up the Conservatives to take three of five might have occurred to someone.

Update (9:15 p.m.): The riding of Bourassa might also be in play, depending on a November announcement by Denis Coderre.

Also, when considering a Toews bench appointment and the need for a cooling-off period, the concept of recusal should also be factored in. Presumably there would be a long list of cases for a sitting Public Safety Minister to recuse himself from.