|Picking the lesser evil |
David Asper, National Post
Published: Saturday, December 27, 2008
Many years ago, my friends and I would play a game called "what's worse?" The idea was that one had to make a decision between two difficult choices. For example: Losing a leg or an arm -- what's worse?
I thought about this game as I was flipping through the news pages the other day, and imagining some of the choices about our Senate and Supreme Court that Stephen Harper has had to make recently.
In the case of Thomas Cromwell, an eminently qualified jurist, the Prime Minister had established an informal vetting process that was first implemented prior to the appointment of Justice Marshall Rothstein to the high court.
Justice Cromwell was to have gone through the same procedure. However, given the state of affairs in Parliament, the process would have been such that the court would have been missing a member for the term of hearings that is about to begin. What's worse? Make the appointment now so that the Supreme Court can function properly -- or wait for the interview process to play out, and miss having the court make use of Justice Cromwell's skills?
The PM called on the leader of the opposition, solicited his views and then made the appointment. He determined it was worse to delay the appointment, and he was correct.
A similar analysis applies to the Senate appointments. Mr. Harper is committed to reforming the Red Chamber, but has been prevented from doing so by any number of vested interests. The Conservative caucus in the Senate is so depleted that it can barely perform the duties of office. Whether one likes the Senate or not, it is there, and so long as it is, there is nothing wrong with trying to get value from it. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with appointing people who are committed to the change agenda that most Canadians feel is necessary.
So: What's worse? Not appointing anyone and leaving the Senate (and the regions it is supposed to reflect) short 18 members; or making the appointments and taking the hit in the media as a reformer-turned-hypocrite? Mr. Harper judged the first scenario to be the greater evil, and he was right.
Whatever else one might say about how the PM proceeded, there is something in it that is reassuring to those who support his agenda for democratic reform: The PM and his government are coming to terms with the fact that patience is necessary. Unpleasant choices, odious as they may seem, have to be made in the short term so that reform can be achieved in the longer term.
This is one way of viewing the appointments that were recently made by the PM. It's a larger version of "what's worse," a game that all too often must be played in politics. There is no doubt that the PM remains committed to democratic reform, and it must be driving him crazy to have to wait for it. But with patience and the leadership to make some of these difficult choices, he will eventually achieve his goal.
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