See? Still the same old Harper.. a wolf in sheep's clothing. Ugh.

Editorial: 'Old' Harper pops back into spotlight
Jan. 20, 2006. 01:00 AM


Conservative leader Stephen Harper has sent a chill down the backs of judges and lawyers with his campaign musings about how some judges appointed by the federal Liberals are activists with their own social agendas who might derail measures implemented by a Tory government.

"I am merely pointing out a fact that courts, for the most part, have been appointed by another political party. But courts are supposed to be independent, regardless of who appoints them and they are an independent check and balance," he told reporters. At the same time, Harper suggested many senior bureaucrats are Liberals who might not co-operate with a new Conservative government.

Sadly, despite all efforts to portray himself as a changed, more moderate leader, such rhetoric smacks of the old Stephen Harper, one who barely two years ago lashed out at Liberals for allegedly stacking the courts with liberal-minded judges in a move to approve same-sex marriage.

At the time, he also suggested some judges appointed under Conservative governments were liberal-oriented. He said Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, a former Conservative attorney general, was a "conservative" in name only, after McMurtry ruled same-sex marriage is legal.

Harper's comments this week raise questions about whether he intends to start appointing judges based on political leanings. In the past, Harper has talked of changing the way top judges are picked. It is still official Tory party policy that all appointments be ratified by Members of Parliament.

In 2003, Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin said in a speech "it would be misguided to appoint judges in a manner that gives more weight to partisan politics." She is correct, because Canada is considered to have the best independent judiciary in the world.

Our current system of selecting justices to the Supreme Court has worked well, during both Liberal and Tory governments. The choices over the decades have been knowledgeable, respected and fair-minded. And, yes, the prime minister names each justice when a vacancy arises, but does so only after extensive consultations with senior judges, provincial justice ministers, law school professors and top lawyers.

Harper should not try to change radically a system that works.

And he should squelch any thoughts he might be harbouring of cleaning out the top ranks of the public service, as Brian Mulroney tried to do when he took power in 1984. Most bureaucrats are dedicated, non-partisan. Some of those considered by Mulroney's advisers to be Liberal hacks have subsequently risen to the highest levels in Canada's private sector.

Harper should reconsider his comments against both the judiciary and the public service. If he doesn't, then it will be just another sign that the "new" Stephen Harper isn't really much different than the "old" one.