Elites picking elites

Canadians should take an active interest in how the Liberal government plans to appoint judges to our Supreme Court. 

When a government announces a new process, it is scrutinized and criticized by the opposition.

Often, the same process will receive praise from those who are friends and supporters of the government, or who may benefit from this change of policy.

For this reason, it is always interesting to observe what groups favour a change of process or policy.

This new process somewhat parallels how the Liberals changed the process to appoint senators. 

In both cases, the Liberal government first appoints a panel, which will then recommend people to sit as either a senator or a Supreme Court judge.

Those who are appointed do the appointing. Critics often describe this arrangement as “by the elites for the elites” while the government and supporters claim it is a more non-partisan process free from political influence.

Who is correct? While it is unfair to label an appointed panel of citizens as elitist, it must not be overlooked that the government will first politically appoint the panel members and maintains political control of the composition of the panel membership.

My concern with this arrangement is that the public may not easily discern who is ultimately responsible if the process of selecting a justice doesn’t yield its intended purpose — a high quality candidate who helps the highest court function as intended.

Should citizens point their finger at un-elected people who recommend senators and Supreme Court judges with no democratic accountability or the prime minister who appointed them?

In my experience, joint accountability often leads to little or no accountability.

For example, if an MLA or an MP appoints a person to a position of service, ultimately that MLA or MP can be held accountable by the people who elected him or her by either re-electing them or voting them out of public office. 

Having appointed panels in effect creates a buffer that reduces accountability.

There is also a concern that elected officials are subject to public disclosure with respect to conflict and finances that appointed individuals are exempt from.

As many citizens will know, the Liberal government has indicated it would like to change how members of Parliament are elected.

This change will not be done with a referendum, but through a series of consultations and with input from “experts” in Ottawa. 

One of these experts told the committee that: “Middle-class people often don’t know anything more than poorer, working-class people, but they have a stronger sense of entitlement.

“Poor people and working-class people tend to shy away from situations where their ignorance will be exposed.”

This expert believes many Canadians are not intelligent enough to have their say on how our democratic system that helped build Canada should be changed.

These comments are unacceptable and are precisely why a referendum is required because our democracy belongs to all Canadians, regardless of income level and expert opinion.

In the case of Supreme Court judges, we know that our Supreme Court is increasingly making decisions in place of elected officials.

The recent ruling on legalizing medically assisted dying that reversed a previous Supreme Court ruling was rushed with little consideration for the fact that an election was set to occur.

Ultimately, members of Parliament have no ability to participate in this selection process while politically appointed but unelected panels will now have a tremendous amount of power and influence in potentially shaping Canadian society.

Considering the scope of these changes and the fact that the government seems to want to consult on almost every other aspect of public policy, this unilateral decision without broad discussion is concerning. 

I think this diminishes democratic participation, but I welcome your views. 

I can be reached at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.


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About the Author

Dan Albas, Conservative member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, is the shadow minister of innovation, science, economic development and internal trade, and sits on the standing committee on finance.

Before entering public life, Dan was the owner of Kick City Martial Arts, responsible for training hundreds of men, women and youth to bring out their best.

In British Columbia, Dan has been consistently one of the lowest spending MPs on office and administration related costs despite operating two offices to better serve local constituents.

Dan is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s top 10 most active members of Parliament on Twitter (@danalbas) and continues to write a weekly column published in many local newspapers and on this website.

He can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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