Partisans who believe the law always supports their views inevitably wind up disappointed.
If there’s one thing you discover following politics, it is that no political party always has the rule of law always on its side. It might be partisan politicians who make the laws, but it is unbiased judges who eventually determine how a law should be implemented fairly.
A fine example of this has been our Essential Services Act that’s been a big source of controversy over the past few years. Initially, it was union leaders and NDP politicians who insisted such a law was unlawful, even though eight of the other nine provinces had similar legislation governing the need to have some public services remain on the job during strikes.
While the Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Dennis Ball last February ruled that such a law was valid, he also ruled that the Saskatchewan Party government’s implementation of the law that sometimes dictated the majority of health workers remain on the job during strikes had unlawful gone too far in infringing on people’s rights.
Of course, this ruling has produced sour grapes from some Sask. Party supporters, now grumbling that the courts always favour of the left, anyway. This is blatantly ridiculous — particularly when you consider that Justice Ball was once head of the Labour Relations Board for the Grant Devine government and no stranger to controversial labour policy.
But what makes such grousing from the losing side even more ridiculous is that they miss the big picture that invariably sees the court sometimes ruling against their wishes and sometimes ruling in favour of them.
Another good reminder of this is the recent federal Court of Appeal ruling that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz did not break the law with its legislation last year to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on the sales of wheat and barley.
A three-member panel of the appeal court overturned the ruling of Federal Court Justice Douglas Campbell, whose ruling last December suggesting that Ritz had broken the CWB Act by failing to hold a vote among Prairie farmers before he introduced Bill C-18. Justice Robert M. Mainville — one of the judges involved in the ruling — explained the panel had “serious reservations” about the enforceability of section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act because such a provision would “relinquish Parliament’s powers” to “the hands of a small group not forming part of Parliament.”
Admittedly, there may be those who will choose to argue that Ritz’s decision is unwise — even if it’s not illegal. They will point to things like the decision by Alliance Grain Traders to not proceed with a $50-million pasta plant in Regina as evidence of the consequences of ending the Wheat Board’s monopoly. (It should be noted that this is not exactly the first pasta plant proposed in the west that didn’t come to fruition. Moreover, that AGT’s shares fell to less than half their $23-a-share value of last October — a direct result of the European financial crisis — had much to do with the company’s decision.)
Critics of the federal government’s handling of the CWB will also point to the looming takeover of Viterra Inc. by Glencore International as another result of the end of the monopoly. In fact, Glencore has even admitted that this was a huge motivation for its $6.1-billion bid for Viterra.
But this is an economic debate — not a legal one. The very same people were arguing that Ritz had acted illegally and was exposing the taxpayers to $15. 4 billions of dollars in damages as a result of the class-action lawsuit filed by Regina lawyer Tony Merchant now don’t have a legal case to stand on.
It serves as a valuable argument that the courts favour no particular political viewpoint.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.