Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and contribute to the debate on this important motion. I want to congratulate my colleagues, our justice critic and deputy critic, for bringing this motion forward.
By way of context, I think it is worth reflecting on what an interesting day it has been here for our discussion on our national institutions.
We began our day with tributes to the member for Calgary Midnapore. I want to join members in paying tribute to his remarkable career thus far as a defender of the Conservative tradition and liberty and as an ambassador for that tradition to those who share our fundamental beliefs who have yet to join the Conservative family. Of course, he is also a passionate Canadian nationalist, and of particular importance to our discussion on this issue, a defender of our institutions.
During his speech today, the member for Calgary Midnapore spoke about the importance of our institutions and about Parliament in particular. He spoke of Edmund Burke, indisputably one of the greatest parliamentarians and philosophers in the history of the English-speaking world.
Burke's political philosophy, and our Conservative tradition that flows from it, centres on two interrelated ideas: intergenerational obligation and the fragility of civilizational goods.
On intergenerational obligation, I have quoted these words in the House before. Burke says, in Reflections on the Revolution in France, that:
...a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society...
It is because of our obligations to the next generation that we must preserve the integrity of our well-functioning institutions.
The second point, on the fragility of civilizational goods, reminds us that the goods of civilization cannot easily be restored once they are lost. We cannot so easily reach into our past and place our traditions back on the shelf if they have been broken and thrown down. Civilization in general, and our institutions in particular, are fragile things that are much easier to keep together than to put back together once they are broken.
It is with this understanding that we, as Conservatives, seek to conserve our best traditions. It is not to oppose change in all its forms. Indeed, Burke himself was sympathetic to the grievances of the American colonists, and he supported Wilberforce's efforts to abolish slavery. Some would have called these things radical in their own time, but they were much better understood as reforms that at the same time sought to preserve existing institutions and traditions. We can be reformers without being radicals.
The member for Calgary Midnapore earlier today passionately defended the value and integrity of Parliament as a genuinely deliberative body, a body that talks about things that matter and where words and votes actually mean something. I will come back to that.
Today we are debating a motion about the integrity of another institution, our Supreme Court, and especially of the traditions and customs that surround it. Here is what the motion says:
That the House call on the government to respect the custom of regional representation when making appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada and, in particular, when replacing the retiring Justice Thomas Cromwell, who is Atlantic Canada’s representative on the Supreme Court.
This motion could not be more clear. It refers specifically to the custom of regional representation and the need to respect it. Surely, in any plausible interpretation, it could not mean anything other than appointing someone from Atlantic Canada to replace the retiring justice on the Supreme Court. I think any Canadian who read the motion and listened to our deliberations today would clearly understand what the motion is referring to.
We have a tradition of regional representation on our Supreme Court, but it is more than just something we have done in the past. I think it was a tradition developed with a specific understanding, with good reason, and with reasons that remain valid today. I will talk about what I see as four reasons why regional representation on the Supreme Court is important.
First of all, diversity of representation is important. I think the government at least pays lip service to this principle and understands it in theory. I am going to talk about it a little as well and about the breadth of diversity it ought to entail.
When people are in an institution that is responsible for making or interpreting laws, be it here in Parliament or be it the Supreme Court, they are going to draw on elements of their experience. Their understanding of the way the world works is going to be shaped by what their lived experience is. I think that is fairly obvious.
A diverse body is therefore more able to draw on the diversity of human experience. It is able to draw on the different experiences people from different kinds of backgrounds have to understand what the social realities actually are and what the application of a particular law or the interpretation of the law will have.
That is why it is important to have diversity of representation, one of probably several reasons. Given the importance of our Supreme Court, that is why it exists on the Supreme Court. Again, I think at least some members of the government understand the value of this diversity, in theory. Certainly we hear it talked about quite a bit.
Second, I want to underline that regional representation in no way precludes other forms of diversity. We hear the government talk, as well, about a range of other kinds of diversity. There is absolutely no reason we cannot respect this tradition while also ensuring the diversity of our court along other dimensions. I think that includes cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity as well as regional diversity and intellectual diversity.
Intellectual diversity is a key element of diversity. It means people who have different kinds of opinions and different kinds of foundational world views. Again, regional representation does not preclude other kinds of diversity.
Third, regional representation is a particularly critical dimension of diversity. If there is a group of people who may be diverse in a range of different ways but are part of the same geographic community, they have opportunities, in spite of their differences, to learn from each other's differences frequently, one would hope, being in the same geographic area.
Those who are from different regions may not have the opportunity to develop an understanding of each other's different experiences, because not being in the same geographic location, they would not have the regular opportunity to brush up against each other and to learn from and hear about others' experiences. That is why regional representation is a particularly critical dimension of diversity.
Although people in a city in Ontario or western Canada may have an opportunity to learn from others within their community who are in some ways different, they may never have an opportunity to fully understand the lived experienced of those who are from Atlantic Canada.
Fourth, and I will touch on this point briefly, because I think it was explained very eloquently by my colleague from Milton, regional representation is part of the founding bargain of our country. Its specific application, and the broader principle of regional representation, was part of Canada coming together as different constituent parts to say that we will respect each region and each region's role in this country.
Disrespect for our traditions with respect to the court is clear in the approach being taken by the government in not respecting regional representation. We also see in their approach to this motion disrespect for Parliament. The Liberals said that they will vote for this motion, that they will “respect the custom”, but that they will not necessarily appoint an Atlantic Canadian to the court, which is precisely what this motion says. That is obviously a contradiction in terms.
It is almost as ridiculous as saying that they will sign an extradiction treaty with China while respecting human rights. It is a contradiction in terms. It is like saying they will create jobs while eliminating the small business hiring credit. It is a contradiction in terms.
We have spoken today about respect for this institution and all of our institutions, yet there is something clearly Orwellian about the way the government is approaching this conversation.
The government should have the courage of its convictions. If it believes in our traditions, then it should vote for them. If it does not, then it should vote against them. However, this is precisely the kind of thing that makes Canadians cynical about our politics, and they deserve better.