As I expected, the Atlantic seat on the Supreme Court being vacated by Michel Bastarache will not be filled by former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Clyde Wells (now Chief Justice of the Newfoundland Court of Appeal). Prime Minister Harper has nominated Nova Scotia judge Thomas Cromwell.
I am of course not privy to the government's deliberations on its nominee. But it would be politically tone deaf for Harper to go into an election in which Québec is a key battleground, by handing such an appointment to a figure who played a key role in killing the Meech Lake accord.
Given Wells’ age and the fact that there is but one “Atlantic” seat on the court, Wells is unlikely to ever be appointed.
I appreciate that many people – including many former Reformers – were deeply opposed to Meech Lake and believe that its defeat reflected the opposition of many Canadians (or at least their lack of understanding of the accord).
But Wells not only reneged on his promise to hold a vote in the Newfoundland legislature on the accord, he behaved in a regrettable manner, as shown in these excerpts from Brian Mulroney’s autobiography:
Quoting Wells: “I will honour the commitment to take the proposal [reached at the June 9-10 first ministers’ meeting] back to Newfoundland to place it before the cabinet and to ask for legislative approval in a free vote, or to put it to a referendum. I must say that a referendum now is almost out of the question.”
After this conference [of Eastern premiers and governors], premiers Peterson, McKenna and Ghiz all called Lowell Murray and advised him that they did not believe Clyde Wells intended to hold a vote, They also told Murray that I should not go to Newfoundland, as it was a trap. And on June 20, Bill McNamara, an accomplished young lawyer who had become a strong Meech supporter, called his classmate and friend Deborah Coyne to suggest that, given the unanimous agreement, they bury they hatchet and join forces in supporting the initiative prior to the vote. “There is not going to be a vote,” Wells’s constitutional advisor told McNamara firmly.
Just prior to leaving his [Wells’s] home to head for the airport (I had thanked Eleanor warmly and signed her guestbook “With gratitude for a delightful evening,” I recall), I said directly, “Clyde, this vote tomorrow is of great significance to Canada. On a scale of 1 to 10, can you indicate to me now how the vote will go?” He replied, that it will pass? A 5!”
--Mulroney’s Personal Journal, July 26, 1990, page 788
In a most illuminating exchange, Bill Cameron of The Journal in a CBC TV interview three times says to Wells, “But, Mr. Premier, you had the prime minister down to speak to your legislature and then you invited him to your home for dinner. Did you, Mr. Wells, at any time tell the prime minister of Canada during these hours you were together that you intended to cancel a historic vote the very next day?
And three times Premier Wells replies, “Honestly, Bill, I just don’t remember.”
--Mulroney’s Personal Journal, July 26, 1990, page 792
And that is exactly what Wells did. He walked into the Newfoundland Assembly and adjourned the House, thereby depriving the elected members of their right to vote on a major constitutional change that he himself and signed and sworn he would put to a vote.
With that Meech Lake was killed off; it didn’t fail. I had three times succeeded in securing unanimous agreement. Yet Meech was suffocated in a cruel act of political infanticide by the premier of Newfoundland. With that accomplished, Wells flew off to the Liberal leadership convention in Calgary, where he was greeted by Jean Chrétien with the memorable words, “Merci, Clyde, pour ton beau travail,” (Thank you, Clyde, for your good work.)
Dr. Roy has also posted on this.