When it comes to assessing the performance of Justice Minister Peter MacKay, one of the main Conservative actors of the just-concluded parliamentary season, the first question is where to start?
Should item one on the list be the minister’s Internet surveillance bill, a proposed law whose intrusiveness may not pass muster with the courts?
Bill C-13 would give telecommunications and Internet providers legal immunity for voluntarily handing over their customers’ private data to law enforcement agencies.
Privacy experts — including the just-appointed federal information commissioner Daniel Therrien — have called on the government to take the more contentious sections of the legislation back to the drawing board.
Conservative ministers have a history of ignoring contrary expert advice, especially if it runs against the grain of the party’s base.
But in this instance, the justice minister will find no solace in the notion that he is taking a hit for the team for, according to a just-released Forum Research poll, a majority of Conservative supporters dislike his bill.
Then there is the prostitution bill that MacKay brought forward last month. It was never going to be doable to satisfy every party in the prostitution debate. But this bill was brought in with a minimum of public or bipartisan discussion.
It is not clear that it is more Charter-proof than the struck-down law it seeks to replace. Since the government will not ask the Supreme Court for an opinion, it might take years of litigation to get a definitive answer.
The messed-up appointment of Federal Court Judge Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court last fall was unprecedented, as were subsequent Conservative insinuations that Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin had somehow crossed a line in the matter and MacKay had a central role in the episode.
That being said, it is a rare member of any cabinet who survives without being a good soldier. When it comes to government policy, no minister is an island and one’s power of initiative is constrained by the collective will of the government and the commands of the prime minister.
But flying solo — far from showcasing MacKay’s acumen — seems to bring out the kamikaze in the minister.
It takes an uncommon degree of societal tone-deafness to assert, as MacKay did, that women are too busy raising children to apply to the federal bench … and to double-down on the statement by prescribing that, in their early years, children need their mothers more than they do their fathers.
That prompted a tweet from MacKay’s Quebec counterpart Stéphanie Vallée, who noted that being a mother of two who commutes from Gatineau to Quebec City weekly did not make her a bad parent or a lesser justice minister.
As it happens, neither Ontario nor Quebec reports a paucity of female candidates for its provincial bench.
Moreover, it is common knowledge that, given a choice between equally able candidates of each gender for the Supreme Court, this government has defaulted to appointing male judges in all instances but one.
More than a few parents would also beg to disagree with MacKay’s contention that mothers are more essential to the welfare of their young children than their partners.
That would be news to the 80 per cent of new Quebec dads who take advantage of the province’s parental leave program to act as their infant’s primary caregiver for a number of months.
Work-family balance issues in a fast-evolving societal environment are not part of the ministerial brief of an attorney general. Neither, for that matter, is dispensing parental advice as the minister did when, as a father, he condemned the Liberal policy of legalizing marijuana.
If he insists on flashing his new parental credentials from his ministerial pulpit, MacKay might want to ponder the fact that many of the Liberal delegates who supported the pot legalization policy were parents who had a head start on him in raising teenagers in a world where marijuana is available for the asking.
The justice portfolio has, on two notable Canadian occasions, been a springboard to national leadership. In this instance, history is not in the process of repeating itself.
Chantal Hébert is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer.