This Telegram Editorial, published on June 8, 2011, explains how the Government of Quebec has lost critical thinking and capacity analysis, and acts, with Bill 204, as if above the law.
There probably aren’t many people in this province who care about an internecine dispute in the Parti Québécois — a dispute over a private member’s bill, no less.
But the issue at the core of the dispute is something that seems to be growing in this country: a willingness by legislatures to retroactively change the rules to dig themselves out of trouble.
The issue in Quebec has to do with Bill 204, a piece of proposed legislation that the PQ is bringing forward to solve a particular problem. The law would go back in time and make legal a 25-year management deal Quebec City has struck with Quebecor Media Inc. The agreement would see Quebecor manage a $400-million amphitheatre and arena, and in return, the head of Quebecor has committed to getting Quebec City an NHL franchise.
Problem is, the deal didn’t go to public tender, and therefore violates Quebec’s Cities and Towns Act, leaving the deal open to court action from others who would have liked to have bid on the venture.
The PQ’s solution? Retroactively make the deal legal. The head of the PQ, Pauline Marois, ordered her caucus to vote for the bill, and Monday, three senior members of her caucus quit, saying that the PQ leadership had become too authoritative. More were threatening action on Tuesday.
Why should we be concerned? Why should we even pay attention?
Because retroactive laws are bad laws.
And we’ve already seen attempts in this province to use the primacy of the legislature to give government status before the courts that can only be classed as an unfair advantage.
Take the province’s expropriation of AbitibiBowater assets. While the end might have been laudable, the means used were a legal sledgehammer. Not only did the legislation strip AbitibiBowater of its rights to take the province to court over the seizure of its property, it also stripped the legal rights of anyone affected by the seizure of property. The actual clause reads: “An action or proceeding does not lie or shall not be instituted or continued against the Crown or a minister, employee or agent of the Crown based on a cause of action arising from, resulting from or incidental to the operation of this act.”
But that’s not the most egregious use of legislation — that still has to rest with laws meant to turn back the clock.
The honour for the ugliest attempt would have to rest with the province’s move in 2008 to pass legislation protecting itself from court action over a liquor levy of a type that was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada. Facing legal action from bar owners, the government passed a bill in 2008 that purported to take effect in 2001, moving backwards in time to extinguish all legal liability for collecting the improper levy.
That effort was overturned by the Supreme Court in this province.
The message to both the government of this province and to the PQ should be clear.
Bending time to fix your own mistakes may be possible, but it will always be an abuse of power. What kind of message do you send if your solution is “if the rules work against you, change them retroactively to your own benefit”?
It’s simple: you view yourself to be above the law.
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