Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Liberals, Conservatives, and Judicial power. . . .

I have obviously never been a ardent supporter of the Liberal Party, particularly in recent years as the LPC has moved considerably right of many of their traditional positions. However, I have supported a number of Liberal policies in recent years, their universal childcare program being one of these. But despite my suggestions that under its present leadership the LPC is in some ways difficult to distinguish from the present Conservative Party, I think it is beholden upon me to point out that there are some important ways in which the parties differ, and as someone on the left I don't mean to belittle these differences. One of the primary things that distinguish the LPC and the CP is that there is a significant element in the CP that opposes institutions in this country related to human rights that I think are vital. Go onto the Blogging Tories site on any given day and one finds writers who speak out, in a fairly vociferous voice, against the Charter of Rights.  These right-wingers some how believe that the Charter is a implement of State oppression and they stamp their feet and nash their teeth at Trudeau for saddling the country with this document. I have looked carefully but have never been able to find a clear (or even mildly coherent) argument of how the Charter oppresses us, but these commentators repeat this claim over and over. Now it seems to me that despite any shortcomings that the Charter may have (and any written document has shortcomings), its intentions is to protect us, particularly those most vulnerable among us, from the arbitrary power of government and the potential arbitrary power of social majorities. This is one of the reasons why I think that Harper's cancellation of the Charter Challenges legal program was one of the worst, and most undemocratic things he has done. It is a mystery to me how this anti-Charter position jibes with the libertarian streak in the CP because anyone who is not hopelessly naive about government surely knows that we need protection from its arbitrary power. But more than this, even libertarians should know that a society must possess some basic protections for minorities from the whims of majorities. Without a document like the Charter a majority could, for example, outlaw marriages between people of different races and there would be de facto little that could be done.

The element of the CP that rails against the Charter seem, in many cases, to be the very same people who moan about so-called "activist judges," an entirely fabricated notion that appears to be a rallying point for right-wingers. Again, what right-wingers mean when they talk about "activist judges" is that there is an imaginary left-wing plot to thwart the will of the people. What is really going on, however, is that the judicial branch of government is actually doing its job. And despite the condemnation that right-winger heap upon these institutions, they are always the first to hide behing the Charter or judicial decisions when they find an advantage in them.

The LPC, for all of its turn to the right, still seems to be committed to basic democratic and human rights which the Charter and the judicial branch of government are meant to protect. By all means, these institutions are not perfect and from a left point of view one could mount a powerful critic that these institutions do not protect people enough. But the vein of the CP that opposes these kinds of institutions is, I believe, a serious danger to democracy, to human rights, and to the arbitrary power of governments and the potential tyranny of the majority.

No comments: