York connections galore in Supreme Court process

Stories in all major newspapers on the morning of Aug. 24 focused on the pending nomination of two new Supreme Court justices and the process for vetting them. There were Osgoode connections galore in much of the speculation and commentary. In the event later that day, Justice Minister Irving Cotler (a 1987 York honorary degree holder) named to the posts two Ontario Court of Appeal justices: Rosalie Abella, who was given a York honorary doctorate of laws in 1991 and is married to York Professor Irving Abella, and Louise Charron.

Responding to reports that the nominations would be discussed by Cotler in a televised parliamentary hearing, Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, called the process “a first step.” Monahan, a scholar who advised Paul Martin on opening up Supreme Court appointments to greater transparency before the future PM’s key October 2002 speech at Osgoode, told the Toronto Star: “I think that we haven’t had enough time to develop a sort of carefully designed process and rather than rush ahead with something that might be half-baked…I would expect there will be further modifications or changes they’ll want to introduce once they see how this goes.” Monahan testified before the justice committee last spring to urge that judicial nominees appear before the committee to answer questions in person.

“I don’t see that as being something that is going to impair their independence,” he said. “I don’t think it’s inconsistent with the role of the judges and the role of the Supreme Court of Canada. I think given their serious, significant responsibilities that it’s appropriate that before they be appointed there be some opportunity to hear from them, and to review their qualifications.”

In advance of the announcement, reporters also speculated on candidates. Included on CanWest News Service’s list were former Osgoode deans Peter Hogg and James MacPherson, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Marc Rosenberg, a 1974 Osgoode grad, and Marlys Edwardh, a criminal lawyer who also graduated from Osgoode in 1974. The Globe and Mail included 1964 Osgoode grad Dennis O’Connor, who heads the inquiry into the Maher Arar case.

The Globe, however, quoted sources saying the nominees would come from the Ontario Court of Appeal. That, it said, would rule out the rumoured non-judicial candidates: Hogg, Canada’s foremost constitutional law expert, and Edwardh, a Toronto civil rights and criminal law specialist who has been counsel for several high-profile commissions and inquiries. Hogg didn’t want the job, the Globe said, and Supreme Court experts said it is considered too risky to appoint from the bar rather than the bench.

Bowman talks about ‘guitar hero worship’

An Aug. 23 Canadian Press story about the Canadian Guitar Festival, taking place this weekend in Odessa, Ont., quoted Rob Bowman, director of York’s graduate program in ethnomusicology and musicology. Fans have practically formed a cult around guitar playing, said Bowman. “Certainly the guitar is an instrument that for the last half century has had an inordinate number of devotees…the number of books, the whole idea of guitar hero worship, so theoretically such a festival could take off,” he said. “There are guitar shops in various cities like New York and Nashville that guitar freaks make pilgrimages to. There’s a whole mystique around guitar luthiers, especially those who make acoustic guitars from scratch.” Bowman’s comments were also picked up by the Kingston Whig-Standard Aug. 24.

Politics and business: an uneasy alliance

In a story about politicians on corporate boards, pegged to Brian Tobin’s abrupt departure from the Magna empire last week, the National Post talked to York corporate governance expert Richard Leblanc, who teaches in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies. The Ontario Securities Commission and other Canadian regulators are considering policies requiring companies to assess each of their individual directors and disclose how they are selected, noted the Post. “The OSC is bringing a microscope down on the skills and competencies of individual board members,” said Leblanc. “That will make it tougher to bring in non-performing political directors.”

Leblanc said the policy, along with the intensifying focus on good governance, could hit some former politicians especially hard. Boards will have to show what directors bring to the table, such as financial literacy, executive experience, specific industry knowledge and an understanding of executive compensation. Many politicians bring an understanding of policy to boards, Leblanc said, not to mention an impressive Rolodex. But others have grown accustomed to “renting their names” to companies in return for directors’ fees. Those days are numbered. If companies chose not to comply with the proposed guidelines, they would have to explain why.

“I don’t think [regulators are] proposing anything radical or revolutionary,”  Leblanc said. “But fear and ego will be the biggest impediment to this.”