Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Calling all constitutional lawyers [updated]

The news that Canada's Already Shopworn Government™ is effectively replacing New Democratic Party MP Nathan Cullen in Skeena-Bulkley Valley, blogged with searing commentary here and here and here and here and here and here and here, raises a fundamental legal question in my mind. Is the appointment of Sharon Smith, the Conservative candidate in the riding, as "liaison" with the federal government, constitutional?

Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states

Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

A member of the House legally represents the constituents of his or her riding. It isn't merely high-handed of the Harper regime to appoint someone else--a political partisan of the regime--to carry out these tasks. It may actually be illegal. These questions, asked over at Galloping Beaver, are pertinent:

1. Does Smith get paid and who pays her?
2. Does Smith have access to caucus?
3. Does Smith have access to cabinet ministers ahead of the duly elected member of parliament?

To which we might add a couple more:

4. Does Smith perform her role for all constituents, or only Conservatives?
5. Does this appointment interfere with the sitting MP's performance of his duties?

Under (4), if her doors are open to all as appears to be the case, she would seem to be supplanting the sitting MP. Under (5), there may be a question of Parliamentary privilege at issue.

Legal opinions from Constitutional scholars are probably being crafted as I write this, but it would be good to have some commentary here on the subject from those with constitutional expertise. As the other bloggers have noted, there's a lot at stake here--even if not a single Blogging Tory has seen fit to comment.

UPDATE: (August 26) Call me stuffy, old-fashioned and prudish (none of which I happen to be), but am I the only progressive getting a little squeamish about the "naked mayor" pics of Sharon Smith floating around the blogosphere in connection with this story? Are they necessary to our argument? Remember that they were not intended for anyone but her partner and herself: they were stolen and circulated, to her no doubt considerable personal humiliation.

This has nothing to do with politics. Privacy is a right, folks, and we'd be the first to yell and stamp our feet if that sort of thing was done by some Blogging Tory to one of us. This all seems a little too much like pulling some kid's pants down in the schoolyard and running away. Verb. sap.

UPPERDATE: (August 27) Well, not really. Not a peep out of the media about this, except three interviews on local CBC. Only one new blogger, and Garth Turner, bless 'im. It's enough to make someone buy a roll of tinfoil, stat. No story here? Good grief.

In the meantime, listen to Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch on the apparent violations of the House of Commons ethics rules by Conservative MP Dick Harris. The latter's self-justification can be heard here.
And here's Nathan Cullen: "pretty poisonous politics." (h/t Frank Frink via Unrepentant Old Hippie)

UPPERDATE: (August 27) Looks like Skeena-Bulkley Valley may not be the only place where the Cons have installed a "liaison." Nice catch over at POGGE? (still waiting for a primary link). Meanwhile, some new bloggers have piled on, and the media may be doing something on the story in their own sweet time.

UPPERDATE: (August 28) Frank Frink of Creative Revolution has updates. Is there a pattern developing here? The substitution appears to have already happened to Vancouver North MP Catherine Bell.

UPPERDATE: (August 29) The blogswarm continues--and, mirabile dictu, there are some signs of life from the media. And a good letter to the editor.

UPPERDATE: (August 29) Three more blogs enter the fray. Kuri, of Thought Interrupted by Typos, is right on: we bloggers left the media in the dust on this one.

UPPERDATE: (August 29) And still more. And more and more. And here is Nathan Cullen. And a post from Alison that I'd missed yesterday, confirming the pattern that's emerging. And an open letter to the comatose Blogging Tories. Nice to have one major media story, though.

UPPERDATE: (August 29) A fine bit of snarkery from the Canadian Cynic. Canada's New Government: "Nice riding you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it." And another small newspaper picks up the trail. (H/t Creative Revolution)

UPPERDATE: (August 29) At last! There's a CP wire story--seems the Tories are now "vigorously backpedalling." Lovely. (H/t the indefatigable Frank Frink of Creative Revolution) So what's going to happen to all of those other "liaisons" now?

And thanks for the h/t, Impolitical, but the chief credit here, I think, is to Blogging a Dead Horse and to Frank Frink for riding this beast into the ground.

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