Why bother? Why would you go to the trouble of making a presentation to a commission studying an issue if you have reason to doubt it will be received with an open mind?
And why waste time and public funds on a "consultation" conducted by a commission whose chairman has already made up his mind what the solution is?
Three weeks ago, I wrote about Gerard Bouchard, one of the co-chairmen of the commission studying the "reasonable accommodation" of different cultural and religious practices.
That Bouchard is a well-known sovereignist does not disqualify him from being co-chairman of the commission any more than the fact that his co-chairman, Charles Taylor, is disqualified because he is a well-known federalist. One can be a sovereignist (or a federalist) for reasons that have nothing to do with the issue under study by the commission.
But a month after the commission officially started work, and before it even begins the public consultations it is to hold, Bouchard gave an interview in which he definitely declared that the solution to the problem is Quebec sovereignty. Only sovereignty, he said, would make French-speaking Quebecers feel secure in dealing with minorities.
It's as if a judge rendered a verdict in a case in which he has yet to hear any evidence or arguments. One could logically infer that, since the co-chairman of the commission has already concluded that only sovereignty will solve the problem, it would be a waste of time to propose any lesser solution applicable in the present constitutional context.
Bouchard's lack of impartiality didn't seem to bother many people in French Quebec when it was brought to their attention. Not even the Liberal government nor Action democratique du Quebec seemed to mind that the co-chairman of a commission had expressed a bias in favour of the option of their mutual adversary, the Parti Quebecois.
But the chairman of a similar body is being held to a higher standard than Bouchard.
In her May 24 budget speech, Finance Minister Monique Jerome-Forget announced yet another study of the already much-studied health system, this one by a task force on health financing headed by Claude Castonguay.
While the purpose of the Bouchard-Taylor commission was to take the accommodations issue out of the campaign for the March 26 election, that of the Castonguay task force is to make the case for changes the government already knows it wants to make.
The task force is to have two other members still to be named, in consultation with the opposition parties. But as described by Jerome-Forget, its mandate seems to have been tailormade to fit Castonguay's well-known views.
In particular, it includes "examining modifications to the Canada Health Act that might be necessary." The Canada Health Act is the federal legislation setting conditions that the provinces and territories must meet in return for full federal funding for health. Among other things, it discourages the user fees that Castonguay wants to introduce.
It has not yet been decided whether the task force will hold a public consultation before producing its report, due in the fall. But the report might have already been written.
Eight days before his appointment was announced, in a speech to the conservative Montreal Economic Institute, Castonguay called for an expanded role in the health system for the private sector, including private health insurance (Castonguay is a former insurance executive), and the "modernization" of the Canada Health Act.
And only a few days after his appointment, he gave an interview, as Bouchard had done, in which he presented his own opinion before hearing that of anybody else. In the interview with Le Devoir, he reiterated what he had said in his speech before his appointment.
Within days of the announcement of Castonguay's appointment, some people in the health system were already complaining that he is biased. If his task force does hold a public consultation, it will be interesting to see who bothers to show up.
Commissioner seems to have made up mind before study starts
Castonguay has strong views on Canada Health Act - just ask him