Sunday, December 21, 2014

WILLIAMS CRITICISM UNDERSCORES DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT

Headlines like "Williams fires back at criticism" illustrate the challenges with trying to have a discussion about serious issues of public administration  and conventions in our province.

I don't think anyone, except the most staunch anti-Danny folks would question the naming of a public building or a public vessel after a former premier, living or dead.  For example, I have not been opposed to naming the new school in Virginia Park - Danny Williams Academy despite the school districts opposition to naming schools after individuals.

I doubt that any lawyer or judge would somehow be biased in the administration of justice because the building they are practicing in or rendering a decision in, is named after Danny Williams. It is just a name.

However perception is reality. 

Justice is supposed to be bind, thus the perception that justice is unbiased is just as important as the reality.  So, for a moment let us forget that who the Corner Brook Court is named after. Let us pretend for a moment that it is irrelevant.

What is relevant is that the name reflects a powerful name in the current  legal, business and political world.  The perception of the weight and power that that individual has is amplified and cemented when that name is given to a significant forum for legal decisions in the province. One could argue that such a decision ignores the perception of reality and casts a shadow on the independence of the courts.

This in noway reflects the contribution made by the individual or the esteem in which many in this province hold him. 

In true form, Williams himself has entered the fray taking direct aim at the acting chief justice of the provincial Supreme Court's trial division for writing a letter last summer to then-premier Tom Marshall raising concerns about the inappropriateness of the decision. 

"The perception of any linkage or relationship between the court and a living individual is problematic", Orsborn argued, adding that "The clear separation of the various branches of government is important to society; the perception of that separation is just as important."

His point was valid. Justice has to be seen to be blind as well as be blind.

The naming of the courthouse was not a popularity contest. Mr. Williams should not consider it a personal attack on his contribution (and continuing contribution)  to the province he loves that some of us believe it was wrong to name a courthouse after him at this time.

Yet, the former premier is not only defending Marshall's decision, he has attacked the messenger saying that Orsborn crossed the line, between the judiciary and the Executive Branch of Government. That is unfortunate because I do not feel this criticism was about Mr. Williams. It was the precedent. 

The decision and the reaction are all too familiar. This is a government that has on too many occasions shown a careless disregard for perception, tradition and the law over its tenure.

The most recent example was naming an experienced and unelected junior lawyer to the provincial cabinet with no regard for the constitutional conventions that are the foundation of the Westminster structure of government.

When individuals like you and I, or Judge Orsborn, can not speak truth to power without condescension and personal attacks- our democracy is weakened. 

This disregard for rules, written and perceived, is what is at issue here.


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