In the wake of the controversial appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, former prime minister Jean Chretien issued harsh criticism of Canada’s own, recently changed, judicial appointments process.
“If you have a bad judge in Canada, you know who is responsible. You know. It is the minister of justice and the prime minister,” Chretien said in an interview with CTV Power Play host Don Martin about his new book, "My Stories, My Times."
“Now they want committee of nobodies who will recommend, who will be responsible.”
He was referring to the changes the current Liberal government made to the judicial appointments process in early 2017, when the Liberals decided to deploy Judicial Advisory Committees to decide who will fill the many vacancies on Canada’s benches.
The committees consist of seven members representing the bench, the bar, the public and the government. They’re regionally based and, according to the government’s website, are supposed to reflect the “linguistic and geographic diversity” of the area.
However, Chretien said the advisory committees will erode the judicial appointments process.
“You know what will happen, they said: ‘Name my friend I will name yours next time.’ And nobody will ask a question. You cannot ask questions. You don’t know who these guys [are], very often,” he said.
The government lists all members of the Judicial Advisory Committees on their website.
Chretien said he’s also worried about the fact that members of the committees are “selected” and not “elected.”
“There is kind of this notion that, you know, because you’re elected you lose your judgement,” he said.
But, Chretien said, prime ministers and ministers who hold elected positions are accountable to journalists in a way committee members, who are selected by the government, are not.
Chretien, a member of the team that saw the notwithstanding clause added to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the 1980s, also slammed Ontario Premier Doug Ford for planning to use the notwithstanding clause in mid-September.
“It is unacceptable,” said Chretien.
“He admitted that when he wants his way he will not respect the fundamental rights of the citizens of Ontario.”
Chretien issued a joint statementwith other former leaders condemning Ford’s threat to use the notwithstanding clause to force cuts to Toronto’s city council. He stood alongside former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow and former Ontario attorney general Roy McMurtry as they slammed Ford’s invocation of the clause and called on his caucus to act.
"History will judge them by their silence," the letter said.
Chretien didn’t mince his words during his recent interview withDon Martin, either. He explained that Ford wasn’t using the clause the way it was intended – and said there “should be a price to pay.”
Ford didn’t end up using the notwithstanding clause because the Ontario Court of Appeal froze a lower court’s ruling that would have prevented the Ford government to reduce the size of the Toronto city council.
While Ford faced a stern rebuke from Chretien, he wasn’t the only one. The former prime minister also made it clear that he isn’t happy with another politician: U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I don’t know the guy and I’m not keen to meet him. I don’t want to waste my time,” Chretien said.
He said Trump’s reputation among other world leaders should be cause for concern.
“I’m travelling the world, and what I hear is not pleasant. You know, there’s a lot of [laughter]. And when people laugh of you, you have to worry a bit.”
Chretien didn’t stop at criticizing Trump’s reputation among world leaders – for Chretien, it was also personal.
The former prime minister revealed that watching Trump on television sometimes forces him to take a step back from everything in order to calm down. Chrétien said that when he gets fired up watching Trump, he leaves the room to write.
“I would go to my table, take my pen and my souvenirs, and gain back my serenity,” he said.
Chretien also chimed in on the new trade deal Trump’s team negotiated alongside Canadian and Mexican leaders.
“What are the big changes in the free trade agreement? Not much,” Chretien said.
“Now rather than be called NAFTA, it’s called USMCA. A big win. So yes Mr. President you won - I did that with my kids when they were young.”
Amid concerns about nasty debates in the House of Commons and MPs calling each other names on the internet, Chretien also reflected on his own experiences with partisanship – or lack thereof.
“We are opponents, but we aren’t enemies,” he told Martin.
“We’re elected to make a contribution to the nation. We have different view, we think we should do this rather than that…but we don’t become enemies.”
At the age of 84, a decade of which was spent as prime minister, Chretien has seen his share of debates and political skirmishes. Nowadays, however, he relaxes by playing golf – but he’s had to give up water skiing for the time being.
“When you break something at 84, it does not come back as easily,” he said.
Still, Chretien is enjoying living at a slightly slower pace.
“I’m having fun,” he said.