Prime Minister Stephen Harper acts as if the public nomination hearing for Supreme Court judges that he himself created were a mere formality.
His new nominee for the country’s most powerful court, Mr. Justice Richard Wagner of Quebec, was announced only on Tuesday; and the nomination hearing in the House of Commons is Thursday. Two days is not enough for the members of the committee who will conduct the hearing to prepare. In the United States, the Senate Judiciary Committee has four to six weeks to investigate a nominee thoroughly before hearings, which last two to five days.
This isn’t a new tack. Mr. Harper did exactly the same thing last time out: there were just two days between the appointment of the nominees (two in that instance, Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver and Madam Justice Andromache Karakatsanis, both of Ontario), and just 2 ½ hours for the hearing. Why the rush?
And the time before that was even worse: no hearing at all. His 2008 appointment of Mr. Justice Thomas Cromwell of Nova Scotia was done just in time for the beginning of the court’s winter session in January, though the vacancy had been created the previous April. There weren’t even two days to spare, apparently.
Mr. Harper deserves great credit for having created the first real public hearing into a Supreme Court nominee, as opposed to the sham hearing offered by his Liberal precedessor (Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler sat in for the nominee and fielded questions). He refused to accept the excuses of an insular legal culture – that good judges would refuse to participate; that a U.S.-style “circus” would result; and that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The system gives the prime minister nearly unfettered power, but it lacked transparency. And he fixed it.
He should believe in the process he created and give it time to work.