When Stephen Harper appointed Richard Wagner to the Supreme Court in 2012, the media described him as a “small-C conservative.” He was the son of Claude Wagner, they noted, who was at one time Quebec premier Robert Bourassa’s “tough … law-and-order attorney general,” and at another time a Tory MP who narrowly lost the party’s 1976 leadership race to Joe Clark. (They also noted he is a man, which temporarily threw the nine-member court’s gender parity out of whack.)
At Wagner’s hearing before MPs, the Toronto Star reported, he “drew a clear line between the work of judges, which he said is to interpret laws, and that of parliamentarians, which is to make laws” — something for conservatives to cheer, perhaps, and perhaps something for liberals to fear. Progressive Canadians place much stock in the courts’ guidance on Charter issues, and in recent years that guidance has been music to their ears — on same-sex marriage, prostitution and many other issues. But Wagner also made clear that, like most Canadian jurists, he sees the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a living, breathing document, not one frozen in amber.
That wasn’t such good news for conservatives. There hasn’t been much good news for conservatives at the Supreme Court in a long time.