Supreme Court Appointments and Atlantic Canada’s Decline

Supreme_Court_of_Canada

By Jackson Doughart, AIMS Policy Analyst

One thesis from the work Toronto Professor Irvin Studin (who will speak about Canadian demography at AIMS on Campus students this Fall), is the strategic relationship between a country’s productive heft and its international political influence. He primarily means the population and productivity of a country in relation to others, but the analysis could be easily applied to politics within a country, and especially to a federation like Canada.

I’ve been thinking about this argument because of Tuesday’s announcement from Ottawa about revised rules for appointing Supreme Court justices. Among other changes, the revision appears to eliminate a position reserved for Atlantic Canada, as has until now been a political convention. When Justice Thomas Cromwell retires, he will probably be replaced by another Ontario or Quebec judge.

How could this happen? Easy: the status of Atlantic Canada as a serious political player in the country has declined. In our federation, the regions compete with each other for finite political influence. Upper Canada is the centre of development in the country, especially in terms of immigrant attraction, and the political balance has shifted from the West in the last election. This is a prime opportunity to move to secure greater influence within the country’s institutions.

It is unsurprising that Central Canada seeks more leverage over competing regions. But Atlantic Canada has made itself an easy target: as Studin argues, population is a key indicator of influence and importance on a competitive political stage, and our population in Atlantic Canada is shrinking and ageing. Failure to build up resources robs us of the political power — well demonstrated on the international stage by Middle Eastern countries — that is afforded to jurisdictions who possess (and exploit) energy wealth.

What reason would Ontario’s delegation in Ottawa have to take our protests against this decision seriously? Declining influence within a union is a symptom of regional decline. And by choosing to push aside conventions to protect Atlantic Canada’s representation on the Supreme Court, the powers that be have put that decline into practice.

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