One leak to the media is no reason to abolish a worthwhile institution of government, or just to suspend it. By that standard, what should we do with cabinet? Or the Prime Minister's Office?
Last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that selection panels of MPs from the major political parties would assess candidates being considered for the Supreme Court of Canada, in consultation with leading judges and lawyers, though the actual appointment would remain a Crown prerogative.
That was an admirable measure, diminishing the risk of partisan appointments to the judiciary – a problem not unknown in Canadian history.
This change expanded on the new practice, starting in 2006, of actual nominees for the Supreme Court answering some questions from a parliamentary committee.
Both these changes were in accord with the Conservatives' often professed aspirations for reform and transparency.
Suddenly, these accomplishments are in doubt. The process was not used for the latest appointment, of Justice Clément Gascon. Another Supreme Court judge will be retiring later this year, which means a pending appointment – but Minister of Justice Peter MacKay now says the process is "under reconsideration." The government says part of the reason for throwing the whole thing overboard is because Globe and Mail justice reporter Sean Fine earlier this year obtained confidential information about the appointment process that chose Maurice Nadon.
This reversal may be an expression of sulkiness that the choice of Justice Nadon did not go through. There was some reason to believe that the short list had been skewed to favour him, but after months in limbo, the Supreme Court itself decided that Justice Nadon's appointment from the Federal Court was unconstitutional.
The reversal of these very small doses of transparency on the last Supreme Court appointment is disappointing. But turning that on-off into a precedent? Unacceptable.