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Conservatives see no evil in criticism, legislation, say Liberals, NDP

By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on a dangerous path attacking Canada’s Supreme Court, says Liberal MP Marc Garneau.

But it is Harper’s typical strategy when he doesn’t get what he wants, said Garneau, during an interview prior to speaking at the Hamilton Mountain federal Liberal riding association dinner May 8 at the Marquis Gardens.

In the latest salvo Harper criticized Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley MacLachin for speaking to Justice Minister Peter MacKay and Harper to flag a potential legal issue in the government’s appointment of Federal Court of Appeal Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court. The court ultimately rejected Nadon by a 6-1 vote, with MacLachin in the majority.

Harper subsequently criticized MacLachin for the telephone conversation, insinuating that it was inappropriate for a chief justice to confide in the minister.

“I think it’s quite shocking the way the PM decided to criticize the chief justice,” said Garneau, the Liberal MP for Westmount-Ville Marie in Quebec. “It is unheard of and it’s totally inappropriate. It’s disgraceful. But Mr. Harper has not shied away from criticizing people he disagrees with.”

Harper’s criticism of the chief justice follows a pattern, said Garneau, of the prime minister lacerating other government figures, including the Parliamentary budget officer, the chief electoral officer and the nuclear safety officer in 2006, said Garneau.

“If he doesn’t agree with them, he criticizes them,” said Garneau. “Yet that’s wrong because these are Parliamentary officers and are owed a measure of respect. (The Supreme Court attack) is a new low as far as I’m concerned. Beverley MacLachin was doing something that was perfectly appropriate.”

The Supreme Court has managed to thwart a number of Harper’s grand plans, including his proposals to reform the Senate, and scuttling three of his tough on crime legislations, he said.

“Even though he has appointed the majority (of the Supreme Court) he’s being rebuffed by them,” said Garneau. “I don’t think he likes it.”

Garneau, the former astronaut, who has flown in space in 1984, 1996 and 2000, also takes issue with how the Conservatives are closing the door on voters with their new elections act legislation. Called the Fair Elections Act, Garneau said the 240-page document has recently consumed Ottawa politicians and staff, but has hardly made a ripple in public attitude in the rest of Canada.

“It get’s people in Ottawa worked up (but) some of it has trickled out,” said Garneau. “The awareness has begun to grow. I don’t think it has just stayed in the Ottawa bubble.”

Hamilton East-Stoney Creek NDP MP Wayne Marston disagrees, arguing most people are oblivious to the severe impact the bill will have on their voting abilities.

“The ordinary person in the street, their eyes glaze over,” he said. “These are tough economic times for them. They have other things on their minds.”

The legislation, scheduled to have its final vote May 16, has been criticized by various groups for disenfranchising people.

“It tends to discourage people from voting,” said Garneau.

The federal government had proposed to eliminate the process of vouching for a person in order to allow them to vote. As well, the employees of Elections Canada that oversee robocalls will be transferred to the Justice Department where, Marston said, they will be under the influence of the federal government if an investigation is held.

Another issue is the government didn’t even consult with other organizations or opposition parties, a normal process when crafting what should be a non-partisan bill such as elections, said Garneau.

Dean Allison, Niagara West-Glanbrook Conservative MP, argued in an article in the Glanbrook Gazette, that the bill will “increase protection for voters for misleading rogue calls and impersonators.”

The fines have jumped from $2,000 to $20,000 for breaking minor election rules to $5,000 to $50,000 for major violations, he said. And Allison states that the integrity of any investigations conducted by Election Canada employees will be protected from interference.

The NDP proposed 102 amendments to the legislation, and all have been voted down by the government May 12, said Marston. But 16 amendments did pass, including a compromise on the vouching process. The bill will allow electors to vote with two pieces of identifications and by swearing an oath.

“It’s a like a train that is not going to be stopped,” said Marston. “The bill has never received the proper scrutiny. It’s flawed.”

Garneau said there are still no enforcement powers for the Election Commissioner allowing the person to compel witnesses to testify during election fraud cases.

“They created this law, they didn’t consult with anybody and basically pushed it at us,” said Garneau. “It is full of things that are totally wrong. It’s still a poor bill.”

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