Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Wheels already coming off Martin's Notwithstanding Clause bandwagon

Paul Martin wont even be supported by a number of Liberal MP's in his plan to make Judges into our unaccountable robed masters.

Paul Martin will have to overcome objections from some provinces, constitutional experts and even some Liberal MPs if he's to deliver on his promise to prevent federal use of the notwithstanding clause.

The prime minister lobbed the constitutional surprise into the televised leaders' debate Monday night, apparently hoping to catch Conservative Leader Stephen Harper off guard. But it came like a bolt from the blue for Liberal MPs too.

"Nobody discussed it with me prior," said Toronto MP Derek Lee, the longest serving member of the Commons justice committee.

Other Liberal MPs and senators whose support would be necessary to amend the constitutional clause complained that Martin's debate pronouncement "came out of left field," as one MP put it privately.

They were confused about how such a change could be implemented and a number of MPs made it clear they'd oppose it.

"I would support retention of the notwithstanding clause," said Mississauga South MP Paul Szabo.

Lee said he's open to debating the idea but, in general, his view on constitutional matters is: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Constitutional law expert Peter Russell was even more blunt: "It would be foolish to throw it out, in my view."

Moreover, Russell said Martin's plan might not even be legal.

Tossing the half-baked idea into the debate in a bid to revive the Liberals' faltering campaign is "a strong argument for saying Paul Martin is not really equipped to govern," added Russell.

"And I'm not a Conservative."


Martin himself, only 13 months ago, told CBC Radio he'd consider using the notwithstanding clause should the courts ever order churches to perform same-sex weddings.

"I would look at it if it was a question of affirming a (religious) right," he said at the time.

Lee said he's always thought the clause is "a potentially useful check on any court that decided to be abusive of Parliament."

Martin's arch-rival and predecessor, Jean Chretien, was instrumental in negotiating the patriation package as Trudeau's justice minister. He has always defended the controversial clause.

Senator Jim Munson, Chretien's former communications director, said he couldn't speak for the vacationing former prime minister.

But Munson said his own view is that the clause is "a safety valve and I don't quite understand why we are fiddling" with it.

He also questioned the wisdom of reopening the constitutional file, saying: "Mr. Chretien was always reluctant to get back into the constitutional debate because he felt there was a country to run."
Ouch. The Chretienites are going to have a field day with this one. Martin has made himself look desperate, stupid, incompetent and unfit for office, all in one go.

The other leaders should really hammer him on this in tonight's debate.


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