Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Williams, Ruelokke, Halley and a cup of joe

This is a letter from me to the editor published today in the Telegram.

I feel compelled to respond to the Saturday column by Bill Rowe on the issues surrounding Premier Williams and the Max Ruelokke decision penned by Justice Halley.

Mr. Rowe divides the issues into two separate matters. The first is the substance of the decision, where Justice Halley concludes that Max Ruelokke now holds the job of CEO and Chair of the CNLOPB. Mr. Rowe made it clear that he has no problem with those conclusions.

However, he does take issue with the knuckle-rapping Premier Williams has received over his public criticisms of the Halley decision. Williams, to several media outlets over several days, repeatedly characterized the decision as “over the top” and remarked that Justice Halley must have “gotten up on the wrong side of the bed”.

The rapping has come from the president of the Canadian Bar Association, J. Parker McCarthy, QC, the opposition justice critic, Kelvin Parsons, and a Halifax-based constitutional scholar, among others.

Rowe’s defense of the Premier boils down to a simple idea: an elected Premier has the right to publicly criticize a judge’s ruling on a matter of public interest.

Fair enough. But when does the premier plan to do that? How do any of his remarks so far constitute in any way fair criticism of the judge’s ruling?

In fact, the Premier’s remarks have had nothing to do with the substance of the judge’s reasoning or conclusions. Instead he has focused exclusively on undermining the credibility of the judge and belittling his ruling by calling into question the manner by which Halley came to his decision.

After all, the Premier seems to say, how can you take a ruling seriously that’s a product of mere Monday morning crabbiness? Would the ruling would have been different if Halley had downed a second cup of joe?

I agree that the Premier has a right to fair and responsible criticism. However, fair and responsible criticism does not include repeatedly going for the cheap shot in every media outlet available. Surely when his communications staff comes up with these kinds of lines-of-the-day, the Premier should have the judgment to reject them as inappropriate to his office.

Rowe went on to ridicule the idea that the Premier somehow owes greater duty to the Law Society than to the people at large. And rightly he should ridicule that contention. However, I have heard nobody besides Rowe make it.

Instead he should consider is that the Premier has a greater obligation than other people to support the integrity of the legal and judicial system of the province. As Premier, he sits atop a system of administration and governance which is founded on the rule of law and not on personal whim and caprice. When that foundation of law is undermined, all that is built upon it is undermined.

If the Premier wants to make fair and responsible criticism of a legal decision on an important issue of public policy, I say go for it. However, nothing he’s said so far fits into that category.

Too bad, because I believe he’d be capable of it if he really tried.

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