In the midst of political clashes, Canada grapples with significant judiciary gaps and electoral vulnerability. Photo credit: Pierre Poilievre
Much to the mainstream media’s chagrin, it turns out 2023 was not the year civility returned to political discourse.
Last Thursday, Conservative Leader Pierre once again found himself in a war of words with a journalist over the deadly car crash that took place at the Rainbow Bridge border crossing. Just the day before, Poilievre used his time in Question Period to reference media reports of a terrorist attack and ask for an update on the situation from the Prime Minister.
What happened next was a back-and-forth sparring match between Poilievre and the journalist about what sources were used to inform his question. After the video went viral, the Liberals quickly glommed onto Poilievre, calling him out for “jump[ing] to conclusions.”
Putting aside the fact that most people immediately jumped to the conclusion that terrorism could’ve been a factor in the Rainbow Bridge tragedy based on the available facts, the exchange gives a bird’s eye view of what the next federal election is going to look like.
Canadians should brace themselves for much ado about nothing.
The problem? With so much focus on tone, temperament, and whether politicians are acting the role of leaders distracts from the larger issues plaguing the institutions that are meant to uphold the backbone of Canada’s democracy.
Right now, Canada’s federal judiciary made up of courts, administrative boards and tribunals at the federal, provincial, and territorial level is facing 78 vacancies. For perspective, this is nearly 7 percent of the total positions that are sitting empty.
Last May, Supreme Court Justice Richard Wagner wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, noting that “the current system is untenable, and I am worried that it will create a crisis in our justice system, which is already facing multiple challenges. Access to justice and the health of our democratic institutions are at risk.”
Wagner is right. Judicial vacancies are one of those pesky things that Canadians don’t put a lot of stock into thinking about daily, but the consequences have massive implications for law and order in communities across the country. The government has let vacancies pile up, and despite appointing a new Minister of Justice in last summer’s cabinet shuffle, there has been no real course correction.
Then there is the debacle on foreign interference which has dominated headlines for the better of the last year. Months after the allegations were made, there are still no concrete recommendations on how to better insulate Canada’s electoral system against threats from authoritarian countries. An interim report isn’t even expected before February 2024.
Even though the Liberal-NDP supply and confidence agreement allows the Prime Minister to avoid an election until 2025 in exchange for key commitments, there are no guarantees in a minority government.
Political oversight of Canada’s institutions is often taken for granted. These stories may not generate the kind of emotions that drive clicks like the video of Poilievre sparring with a journalist, but they are essential to upholding democracy. We should recognize this point before it’s too late.
Josie Sabatino is a Senior Consultant at Summa Strategies, focused on providing strategic insight and helping clients meet their objectives in an ever changing and complex political and regulatory environment. Prior to joining Summa, Josie spent nearly a decade in political communications and most recently served as the Director of Communications to the Hon. Erin O’Toole, former Leader of the Official Opposition.