Election at ‘tipping point’

When major Canadian newspapers wanted some perspective on the latest barrage of election ads, they turned to Fred Fletcher, a specialist in political advertising and director of York’s Communications & Culture graduate program:

  • “The election’s at a tipping point,” Fletcher told The Toronto Sun in a Jan. 11 story. “The Conservatives might have the capacity to pick up some seats in Toronto if they clear 40 per cent in the polls.” The Tories have been targeting a few ridings with their spending and they are doing some spending on advertising in languages other than English, Fletcher said. But he hasn’t seen a full court press on TO by the Tories. “Harper has made some appearances here, but there doesn’t seem to be an urban strategy,” he said.
  • The new Liberal ads are aimed at undoing the softer image Conservative leader Stephen Harper has been presenting, he told The Ottawa Citizen in a Jan. 11 story also published by The Vancouver Sun. “There are two images of Harper out there,” he said. “There’s the old one from the 2004 campaign and the new one. The Liberals are trying to bring the old one back into focus and into people’s minds. It’s a wedge strategy. They’ve written off people who are self-defined as socially conservative, they’ve written off all the gun collectors, they’ve written off between 10 and 20 per cent of the Canadian population who are pro-George W. Bush. They are targeting the left-wing urban swing vote and hoping to attract NDP and the soft Conservative voters – people who want to throw the Liberals out but who don’t want the Conservatives in.” The Liberal spots aren’t attack ads: “They’re not about family relationships or personal idiosyncrasies, they are about action and ideas,” he said. “These ads are no different than the Conservatives’ ‘entitlements commercial’ with the David Dingwall quote. [‘I am entitled to my entitlements.’]”

Martin’s Charter promise easier said than done

Canada’s leading constitutional scholar, Peter Hogg, was joined by a number of experts in saying the Martin government could not make a major change to the Constitution simply by passing a law through Parliament, reported The Globe and Mail Jan. 11. He was referring to Liberal Leader Paul Martin’s pledge during Monday night’s English-language debate to remove Parliament’s ability to override Supreme Court rulings that favour people like gays and lesbians, immigrants and minority linguistic groups. Hogg said Ottawa would also need the support of seven provinces representing half the population to amend the Constitution to prevent Parliament from invoking the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”There isn’t any escape from that,” said Hogg, professor emeritus and former dean at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Hogg said he disagrees with the Liberal proposal, which he feels would leave too much power in the hands of judges. “If the courts are always supreme over the legislature, there is going to be a tendency to want to pack the courts with your supporters,” Hogg said.

Osgoode Dean Patrick Monahan said the constitutional amendment could be done through a simple statute adopted by the House and the Senate, as stated in Section 44 of the Constitution Act. However, he said such an amendment could be changed as quickly by another government, once again under Section 44.

In related coverage:

  • Monahan told The Ottawa Citizen Martin could eliminate the notwithstanding clause “rather easily” because his proposal deals only with the action of Parliament. “No prime minister of Canada has ever used the notwithstanding clause, so I don’t think it would be a big step to say we’re now going to permanently abandon the possibility of using the notwithstanding clause in the future,” said Monahan, who advised the federal government on the issue.
  • Monahan analyzed the federal leaders’ English-language debate on “A Channel News” on CKVR-TV in Barrie Jan. 10.

Osgoode best law school in Canada

According to Canadian Lawyers magazine’s 2006 survey of about 10 per cent of the 5,000 law students who graduated in the past five years, York’s Osgoode Hall Law School ranks as the country’s best law school, reported The Globe and Mail Jan. 11. Second place went to the University of Toronto and third place to University of Victoria.

Should jurors have final word?

A drug-trafficking conviction handed to Alberta medicinal-marijuana activist Grant Krieger comes under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of Canada Thursday. But Krieger’s appeal is likely to shed more light on legal issues concerning judges’ instructions to juries than it will on the merits of the healing powers of cannabis, suggested The Globe and Mail Jan. 11. A key issue that will go before the Supreme Court judges is a concept known as “jury nullification.” That happens when a jury disagrees with a law it finds offensive and refuses to render a judgment that follows that law.

It’s a thorny topic, however, and the Supreme Court has previously taken “a kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink approach to it,” said Alan Young, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “It’s important that a judge doesn’t have the power to tell a jury ‘you can’t do this,’ ” Young said. “It’s an important power in [a jury’s] back pocket in these morally controversial areas.”

Rwandan hero speaks out at York

The same international pressure that helped end apartheid can also be used to prevent the large-scale atrocities occurring in Africa today, says the man made famous by the movie Hotel Rwanda, reported the Toronto Star Jan. 11. Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroic efforts saved the lives of 1,200 refugees when Hutu extremists began slaughtering minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in his country in 1994, urged Canadians Tuesday to lobby political leaders, write petitions and demonstrate on the streets. Speaking to about 300 York University students Tuesday, Rusesabagina said the voices of innocents in places like the Darfur region of Sudan and the Congo, where countless people have been butchered and displaced, are calling for help.

Coach calls new hoop fee a ‘cash grab’

York coach Bob Bain believes Canada Basketball sees a cash grab in the mandatory $20 registration fees it is going to require for all players under new rules, reported the Toronto Star Jan. 11. “Their arrogant approach is a slap in the face to people who have devoted their lives to the development of young players, ” said Bain. “We have far more March Madness and NCAA interest than the international stuff.”