Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Unbearable Lightness of Michael Harris

Here's the general theme of my writings about Michael Harris: he's a lightweight. An intellectual lightweight.

He's proven it time and time over. But never so much so as in his (second) most recent iPolitics column. Published June 16, to the uninformed reader it appears to be a knockout punch. But to the informed reader it's a big swing and a big miss.

It contains some rather comical misrepresentations of the issue which it is purported to be about. For example, Harris claims -- at length -- that Justice Marc Nadon was forced off the Supreme Court because the Supreme Court judged him as unqualified. This is false. The court did not question his qualifications, it ruled that (because of a purely technocratic detail) to be ineligible.

That's one thing. But the following is another entirely:

"A former Harper cabinet minister told me that there was a very good reason the Harper government didn’t celebrate the 25th and 30th anniversaries of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

First, the charter was Pierre Trudeau’s creation. Harper has a pathological hatred of both the Liberal party and its most famous modern leader. Looking forward to the 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding, the Harper government commissioned a huge poll to find out who Canadians admired the most. It was the guy who gave us the charter.

And then there are Harper’s problems with the charter itself, which the former cabinet minister spelled out for me: 'Harper hates the charter because it transferred power from Parliament to the people. There was a higher authority than the government of the day which he just can’t accept — even though many of his own MPs have a copy of the charter hanging on the walls in their offices. He doesn’t seem to care that is an integral part of Canada now.'"

There is so much amiss with this that it isn't even funny.

First off, it's not even difficult to induce who this "former Conservative cabinet Minister" is. Of all the former Harper government ministers, only one has a big enough grudge against Harper to talk to a wingnut like Harris: it's obviously Helena Guergis.

Now, when Guergis was a minister in the Harper government, the Canadian left declared her to be public enemy number one. Her misbehaviour in a public airport was fodder for the left for weeks. Then Guergis was fired from cabinet. Suddenly she became a cause celibre of the left. Oh, and Harris himself wrote a column about her pretty much parroting anything she had to say about her alleged "victimhood" despite the fact that she lost her lawsuit against Harper.

Guergis was the enemy so long as she was a Harper minister. But when the left got what they demanded time and time again, suddenly Harris is kissing up to her for fodder for a good anti-Harper hitpiece. It's fickle politics at it's finest, but that's Harris in a nutshell.

Then there's the most basic intellectual flub afoot in this: this idea that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms gave power back to "the people" reflects a jaw-dropping lack of understanding of the Charter.

Simply put, the Charter didn't "transfer power from Parliament to the people." It in fact transferred power from Parliament -- and with it, the people -- to the courts.

Over the past several years, courts have routinely referenced the charter in their decisions to refuse -- simply refuse -- to comply with tough-on-crime legislation that polls indicated, time and time again, that the Canadian populace supported. Those laws were passed by the Parliament of Canada, which is governed by principles of responsible government that are supposed to behold MPs to their constituents.

In other words, if you take power from Parliament you've taken it from the people. And as no Canadian has ever had the opportunity to cast a ballot to elect a judge, any argument that courts embody the will of Canadians is absolutely non-existent.

Perhaps Guergis was thinking of the American constitution when she gave Harris this comical quote. And for his own part, Harris -- who clearly understands the Canadian constitution no more than that -- never gave it a second thought. No columnist worth his or her salt would stand to be embarrassed like that. But somehow Harris did.

Made by a less experienced "journalist" -- a label for which Harris doesn't really qualify -- it would be a rookie mistake. In Michael Harris' case, it's a lightweight mistake, one that (to his advantage) his left-wing nutjob audience aren't smart enough to receognize.


  1. Michael Harris made an error in his statement about the Supreme Courts rejection of Marc Nadon. A fairly minor error that was tangential to his main point, but an error none the less, so you are correct in that regard. The rest of your opinion piece is nothing but an ad hominem attack on Helena Guergis. Instead of responding to what she says you attack the messenger.

    I give your rhetorical opinion piece a D minus.

  2. I withdraw part of my previous post. You misrepresent what Michael Harris said about the SCC's decision on Marc Nadon. The court found that Nadon’s appointment was "unconstitutional". He was ineligible because he “wasn’t a member of the Quebec bar, wasn’t a Quebec judge and didn’t qualify.” In this context ineligible and unqualified are synonymous.