Friday, September 05, 2008

No ermine for Clyde Wells

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.”
--page 781

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.
--page 786

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.
--page 792

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.)
--page 792

Dr. Roy has also posted on this.


Anonymous said...

That crook Mulroney should be sharing a cell with that even BIGGER crook Chretien; the second he started making deals with Quebec separatists, he lost whatever credibility he had in the west, and he doomed the "Possibly Conservative" party to a generation-long split between those who believe in conservative principles, and those who will simply parrot conservative principles so they can get into power and act like LIEberals.

Anonymous said...

And of course Wells chief advisor Deborah Coyne later had a love child with Trudeau. Trudeau didn't want Mulroney to succeed where he had failed.

Curmudgeon said...

I don't know if it should be Wells or the current appointee but the new justice seems to be what a national government wants: top of the recommendation list, bilingual, knowledgeable in Quebec statue law, moderate, and experienced in all the areas of law. May or may not be my cup of tea, I don't know, but his CV is hard for a PM to resist.

Craig said...

I note that Mr. Mulrooney doesn't mention his 'roll the dice' comments.

Not that Mr. Wells mightn't have planned to scuttle anyway. But after the 'roll the dice' comments came out [combined with offers of special extensions for Manitoba, but not Newfoundland], for Wells to let the Accord pass would have been for him to stand up and say he allowed himself to be fooled and bullied, and that way lay political suicide on behalf of a deal Wells hadn't signed and didn't like.

Joan Tintor said...

Mulroney does refer to the "roll the dice" quip in his bio and, as I recall, writes that it was a poor choice of words.

But I don't agree with your second paragraph. Wells didn't have to say he liked the deal. In fact Mulroney quotes him saying at the June 9/10 meeting that he didn't. All Wells had to do was keep his promise to allow a vote. If enough members of the Nfld. legislature were as outraged by Mulroney's supposed bullying, the "roll the dice" bravado, etc., then Wells should have been confident that the vote would have failed, but that he had kept his part of the bargain with the first ministers.

Obviously Mulroney discusses Meech over several pages and I wasn't able to excerpt them all.

Craig said...

We'll have to agree to disagree then.

Wells had appeared willing to let the vote happen (based on the individual debate speeches in the House, he seemed willing to stage-manage a narrow passage of the bill while personally voting against it, so that he could reserve his "I told you so").

Once the brag was out there that Mulrooney had won a test of wills to force Wells to hold the vote, the dynamics of Newfoundland politics (which are heavy on 'us vs. the mainland' dynamics) meant the cancellation was the only move for Wells, because he was left without a graceful exit.