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Vic Toews

Victor "Vic" Toews, PC, MP (born September 10, 1952) is a Canadian politician. He has represented Provencher in the Canadian House of Commons since 2000, and serves in the cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as President of the Treasury Board. He previously served in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba from 1995 to 1999, and was a senior cabinet minister in the government of Gary Filmon. He is currently seeking re-election in the 2008 federal election. Toews is a member of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Early life and career

Toews was born to a Mennonite family in Filadelfia, Paraguay, and moved with his family to Manitoba in 1956. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the University of Winnipeg (1973), and a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Manitoba (1976). He joined the provincial Ministry of Justice in 1976 and became a Crown attorney the following year. He was promoted to Director of Constitutional Law for Manitoba in 1987, and advised the Manitoba government on the Meech Lake Accord. He was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1991.

Toews became a lecturer at the University of Manitoba in 1987, and taught classes in labour law and employment law. He left the civil service in 1991 to become an associate counsel for Great-West Life Assurance, and was given a leave of absence in 1995 to enter politics.

Toews spoke against a decision by Ontario's New Democratic Party government to prohibit protests outside abortion clinics in 1994. He described the decision as "almost unbelievable" and argued that the government was "challenging ... a constitutionally held right" in a manner "consistent with their social agenda".

Provincial politician

Toews joined the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba in 1989, and ran for the party in the northeast Winnipeg division of Elmwood in the 1990 provincial election. He placed second against incumbent Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Jim Maloway. He ran again in the 1995 election, and narrowly defeated NDP incumbent Harry Schellenberg in nearby division of Rossmere.Minister of Labour

Toews was appointed to the cabinet of Premier Gary Filmon after the election, becoming Minister of Labour on May 9, 1995. In his debut speech to the legislature, he said that his political philosophy was partly influenced by leaders of Canada's social democratic movement, as well as his own Mennonite upbringing.

Toews's tenure as Labour Minister was marked by a difficult relationship with organized labour. His first major legislative initiative was Bill 26 (1996), which required unions to disclose the salaries of their officials and indicate how membership dues were spent, mandated union certification votes to take place within seven days of an application, and granted employees the right to prevent their dues from being donated to political parties. Several labour leaders described the bill as anti-union. NDP leader Gary Doer argued that the provision regarding donations unfairly targeted his party, and suggested that corporate shareholders should be given the same right to shield their investments from party donations. Toews rejected these criticisms, and argued that Bill 26 provided greater autonomy to individual workers.

Toews's department proposed the privatization of home-care delivery services in 1996, drawing opposition from many in the field and triggering an extended strike. He was also forced to deal with strikes at Boeing, Inco, and the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation, leading one journalist to describe 1996 as "the busiest year for picketing since the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike". Toews blamed unions for provoking the strikes, saying they were conducted "for political, not economic, reasons."

Toews canceled the provincial Payment of Wages Fund in July 1996, argued that it was not achieving its purpose. The stated intention of the fund was to allow workers to collect revenues from employers who entered bankruptcy or receivership.Minister of Justice

On January 6, 1997, Toews was promoted to Minister of Justice, Attorney General and Keeper of the Great Seal, with further responsibility for Constitutional Affairs. ;Approach to crime and the judiciary

As Justice Minister, Toews earned a reputation for focusing on "law and order" issues. One of his first ministerial decisions was to grant jail superintendents the right to institute complete smoking bans, impose random drug tests, and monitor prisoners' calls. Soon after, he introduced measures targeting prison gangs and the drug trade. In August 1998, Toews announced that his ministry would hire more Crown attorneys and construct more than seventy new beds for the Headingley Correctional Institution, in an attempt to incarcerate more dangerous offenders.

Toews also introduced legislation to make parents legally responsible for the crimes of their children. Members of the opposition New Democratic Party argued that the plan would be ineffective, citing past experiments in the United States of America as evidence.

Toews criticized some criminal justice initiatives brought forward by the federal government of Jean Chrétien. In 1997, he announced that Manitoba would not enforce or administer the Canadian gun registry. Two years later, he described changes to the federal Young Offenders Act as both ineffective and too expensive. Toews nonetheless cooperated with the federal government on several issues. In March 1998, he stood with federal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy to announce a plan discouraging court sentences for non-violent aboriginal offenders. Toews said that the proposal was "sensitive to the needs of the aboriginal community", and that it would reduce the number of repeat offenders.

Toews's relationship with the judiciary was sometimes difficult. In May 1998, he asked a judicial appointment committee to add two names to a list of proposed judges. Some argued that this was improper interference, while Toews stated that he acted to ensure the appointment of more bilingual judges. In 1999, he delivered a speech to the Alberta Summit on Justice that criticized judges for intervening in political matters. He was quoted as saying that judges, unlike parliamentarians, "are not well-placed to understand and represent the social, economic and political values of the public". Some attendees criticized his speech, and a representative of the Legal Aid Society of Alberta described it as "inflammatory and sensational". Toews stated on another occasion that judges have a relatively light workload. A provincial judge described this as "misleading and inaccurate". Opposition criticism

The New Democrats argued that Crown offices were underfunded under Toews' watch, and suggested that the Justice Department's prosecutorial duties were compromised.

During a legislative debate in June 1999, Toews accused NDP Justice Critic Gord Mackintosh of mischief for repeatedly calling the province's Street Peace gang hotline only to hang up before leaving a message. Calls to the hotline were meant to be confidential and anonymous, but Toews later acknowledged that calls from government buildings had been tracked and that he received Mackintosh's name from an employee in his department. Premier Filmon described Toews's conduct in the matter as inappropriate. During the fallout from this controversy, Toews was forced to admit that the hotline had gone unanswered for several months.;Other policy decisions

In May 1999, Toews announced that Manitoba would accept a Supreme Court of Canada decision granting spousal benefits to same-sex couples.1999 election

The Progressive Conservatives were defeated in the 1999 provincial election and Toews was personally defeated in Rossmere, losing to Harry Schellenberg by 294 votes. Redistribution had added a number of NDP-leaning polls to the division, and likely contributed to Schellenberg's victory. Toews returned to work with Great-West Life Assurance in 1999 and 2000.

Federal politician

Party alignment

After leaving provincial politics, Toews turned his attention to the federal scene and Canada's "unite-the-right" movement. He had previously called for cooperation between the right-wing Reform Party of Canada and the centre-right Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, although he did not endorse the United Alternative initiative when it was first announced in 1999. He expressed interest in working with the Canadian Alliance, a successor to the Reform Party that sought to build support among Blue Tory Progressive Conservatives. Toews endorsed Tom Long's bid for the Alliance leadership in June 2000, and approved of Brian Pallister's efforts to bring the Progressive Conservatives into cooperation with the new party.

Toews formally joined the Alliance in the buildup to the 2000 federal election, and defeated four other candidates to win the party's nomination in Provencher, a rural riding in southeastern Manitoba. He then defeated Liberal Party incumbent David Iftody in the general election. The Liberals won a national majority government, and Toews was appointed as Justice Critic in the opposition shadow cabinet.

The Canadian Alliance was weakened by internal divisions in mid-2001, with several MPs calling on party leader Stockwell Day to resign. Toews did not take a strong position for or against Day's leadership, but issued a call for party discipline pending a formal review. When Day resigned, Toews worked on Grant Hill's unsuccessful campaign to become the new party leader.

In 2003, Toews recommended that Alliance members purchase Progressive Conservative membership cards to support the leadership bid of Jim Prentice. He denied this constituted interference, and said that members of the two parties should be encouraged to work together.Conservative MP

The Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties merged to form the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. Toews joined the new party, and was a Manitoba organizer in Stephen Harper's successful bid to become its first elected leader. He was easily returned in the 2004 general election as the Liberals were reduced to a minority government, and was retained as Justice Critic in the parliament that followed.

On January 25, 2005, Toews pleaded guilty to the charge of exceeding his personal campaign expense limits in the 1999 provincial election. He claimed that the overspending resulted from a miscommunication between his campaign and the provincial party as to how some expenses were to be accounted. There were some calls for him to resign as Justice Critic, but nothing came of this. Toews received a $500 fine, and the charge remained on his record.

A Winnipeg Free Press poll taken in late December 2005 showed Toews as the most popular choice to replace Stuart Murray as leader of the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives. He declined to contest the position, and was returned without difficulty in the 2006 Canadian federal election.Policy views

As Justice Critic from 2001 to 2005, Toews frequently accused the Liberal government of being unfocused on crime issues. He supported the Chrétien government's decision to create a national sex offender registry in 2002, but criticized the government for not making the bill retroactive to include the names of previously convicted offenders. The non-retroactive approach followed the model of previous legislation in the United Kingdom.

Toews criticized some Supreme Court decisions, and on one occasion accused former Chief Justice Antonio Lamer of overseeing a "frenzy of constitutional experimentation". He also called for official reviews of judicial appointments, arguing that the policy views of judges should be known before they take office. In September 2004, he delivered a speech to the National Pro-Life Conference entitled "Abuse of the Charter by the Supreme Court". In this speech, Toews criticized judicial implementation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, suggested that judges were implementing social policy, and called on his audience to build organizations to challenge the courts.

Toews spoke favourably of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on its twentieth anniversary in 2002, describing it as "a powerful check on the power of government to unreasonably intrude on our rights and freedoms". He also called for governments to demonstrate more willingness to use the Charter's Notwithstanding Clause to overrule court decisions. Toews specifically argued that the clause should have been used to overturn a court decision that weakened Canada's child pornography laws. (The Liberal government brought forward remedial legislation to address this decision, without resorting to a Constitutional strategy.)

Initially considered a moderate within the Canadian Alliance, Toews later became known for endorsing socially conservative causes. He was a vocal opponent of Bill C-250 (2003), which made sexual orientation a protected category under Canada's hate crime legislation. Toews stated that the bill could restrict freedom of expression and religion, and was quoted as saying that a "homosexual activist" could sue a hotel chain to remove Bibles as hate literature. He later emerged as a prominent opponent of same-sex marriage, and suggested that changing the definition of marriage in Canada could result in polygamy being legalized. In 2005, he launched an extended filibuster to delay committee work on the issue. Despite his efforts, same-sex marriage was legalized in the summer of 2005.

During this period, Toews also argued that religious organizations should be permitted to deny gay organizations the use of their facilities, supported increasing the age of sexual consent in Canada from fourteen to sixteen, and opposed the decriminalization of cannabis. He continued to oppose the federal gun registry.Federal Minister of Justice

The Conservatives won a minority government in the 2006 election. On February 6, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Toews to cabinet as Canada's Minister of Justice and Attorney-General. In this capacity, he introduced several bills relating to Canada's criminal justice system.;Criminal justice;;Gun-related crimes

Toews introduced two bills in May 2006, requiring mandatory minimum prison sentences for persons convicted of gun crimes and eliminating house arrest as an option for various offenses. Opposition parties amended the second bill in October 2006, retaining the ban on house arrests for serious violent and sexual offenders but permitting it for non-violent property offenders. NDP Justice Critic Joe Comartin argued that this change addressed the legitimate concerns of Canadians, while removing what he described as "the radical, extreme over-reaction" of the Conservatives. Toews called for the bill to be passed in its original form.

In November 2006, Toews introduced a bill to toughen bail conditions for persons accused of gun-related crimes. The bill included a "reverse-onus" clause requiring the accused to demonstrate why they should not be held in custody. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Toronto Mayor David Miller indicated their support for the bill.;;Age of consent

In June 2006, Toews introduced a bill to raise the age of sexual consent from fourteen to sixteen. The bill included an exemption for adolescents who have relations with persons no more than five years older than themselves. Under Canadian law, "sexual consent" covers all activities from kissing to intercourse. Liberal MP Irwin Cotler argued that the Conservative Party was misrepresenting the issue to the Canadian public, and noted that the sexual exploitation of persons under eighteen is already illegal under Canadian law. Toew's proposed changes were supported by other interested parties, including Manitoba Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh. The bill became law in February 2008, over a year after Toews left the Justice portfolio.;;Dangerous offender status

Toews introduced a "three strikes" bill to the House of Commons in October 2006, stipulating that persons found guilty of three sexual or violent crimes will be automatically categorized as dangerous offenders unless they can convince a judge otherwise. Persons labeled as dangerous offenders under Canadian law may be kept in prison indefinitely. Critics argued that the proposed law was too broad in its scope, and included vaguely-defined categories in its list of serious offenses. Civil libertarian groups also argued that the bill threatened the constitutional principle of accused persons being presumed innocent until proven guilty, and suggested that it may not withstand a court challenge.;;Youth justice

In August 2006, Toews told reporters that he was willing to consider lowering the age of criminal responsibility in Canada from twelve to ten. He indicated that his focus was on treatment rather than jail time, although he did not rule out jail sentences for ten year-olds. A Justice Department spokesman later clarified that there were no plans to bring forward such legislation. In October 2006, Toews announced plans to introduce more severe sentencing provisions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.;;Other

In June 2006, Toews brought forward amendments to expand Canada's collection of DNA samples from convicted criminals. He also confirmed that his government would arm guards at the Canada-United States border, and would not revive plans by the previous Liberal administration to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis.

MPs from all parties agreed to fast-track passage of a bill toughening penalties for street racing in November 2006. In the same month, Toews introduced a bill to give the police extra powers against persons who drive while under the influence of drugs.;;Criticism

Some provincial justice ministers expressed concern about the costs of Toews's proposed sentencing reforms. Toews acknowledged that his government's gun sentencing laws would cost $246 million per year for new prison space and $40 million for operating costs, but argued that the changes were necessary and were requested by police and provincial officials.

Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff criticized Toews's approach to crime, arguing that adding thousands of people to Canada's prison system will lead to young offenders becoming hardened adult criminals, and will not make Canada safer in the long term. Former Ontario Chief Justice Patrick LeSage also criticized Toews's approach to crime issues, arguing that the country was not experiencing a crime wave and did not need "draconian" laws to ensure its safety.;Judicial appointments

Soon after he assumed office, Toews announced that public hearings would be held for the next justice appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. This policy was criticized by Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and former justice John Major, who expressed concern that these hearings could foment the "political warfare" associated with American judicial appointments. In late February, Prime Minister Harper nominated Marshall Rothstein from a shortlist prepared by the previous Liberal administration. MPs were permitted to ask questions of Rothstein, although the ultimate power of appointment continued to rest with the prime minister. Rothstein was supported by Liberal members of the judicial committee, and was quickly confirmed to the bench.

In November 2006, Toews announced that police representatives would be appointed to the provincial judicial advisory committees that review the qualifications of potential judges. This proposal was widely criticized by the Canadian media and by opposition MPs, some of whom argued that Toews's intent was to stack the courts with right-wing judges. In an unprecedented move, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and the Canadian Judicial Council issued a statement that Toews's proposal would "compromise the independence of the Advisory Committees", and called for the minister to consult with judicial and legal representatives before making any changes. The Federation of Law Societies of Canada has also criticized Toews's plan, arguing that the government had "politicized" the judicial appointments process. Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry and Attorney General Michael Bryant added their opposition in early 2007, with Bryant arguing that the "the forces of legal populism" were threatening to "tear asunder the basic principle of judicial independence". Toews indicated that he would proceed with his changes despite the opposition, though he was removed from the Justice portfolio before the new system could be implemented. In January 2007, the Conservatives appointed two powerful Ontario police union leaders to an advisory committee.;Other matters

In mid-2006, Toews's department prepared draft legislation concerning religious rights and freedom of speech in relation to same-sex marriage. Some speculated that this legislation was intended to protect the "free speech" of religious leaders and others who criticize homosexual behaviour. The legislation was never brought forward. The House of Commons defeated a motion to reopen the debate on same-sex marriage in December 2006. While Toews remains personally opposed to same-sex marriage, he later indicated that the Harper government would not revisit the issue again.

In late October 2006, an Ontario Superior Court Judge struck down a part of Canada's Security of Information Act as unconstitutional. This law had previously been used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to obtain search warrants for the home and office of Ottawa journalist Juliet O'Neill, after she received and published leaked information about Maher Arar. In the same week, an Ottawa judge struck down as unconstitutional a section of the Anti-terrorism Act that defined terrorism as crime motived by religion, politics or ideology. Toews later announced that the Harper government would not appeal the O'Neill decision.

In December 2006, Toews and Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Jim Prentice announced plans to repeal Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The ministers argued that this provision sometimes prevented status aboriginals and on-reserve workers from registering human rights complaints, and said that its repeal would extend full rights protection to all First Nations people.

Toews called a judicial inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing in February 2006. He abolished the Law Commission of Canada later in the year, saying that the government would commission other agencies to do its research work.President of the Treasury Board

Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuffled his cabinet on January 4, 2007, and appointed Toews as President of the Treasury Board. Some commentators argued that Toews's hardline approach to law-and-order issues was damaging the Conservative Party's image among centrist voters, and described his replacement Rob Nicholson as presenting a more moderate image.

In his first major speech after the shuffle, Toews announced increased penalties and longer jail terms for bureaucrats who commit fraud against the government. In the same month, he announced that the Canadian Wheat Board would be subject to the Access to Information Act.

As Treasury Board President, Toews is responsible for overseeing the Federal Accountability Act, which was passed into law in 2006. In January 2008, he introduced a Lobbying Act to replace Canada's Lobbyists Registration Act. The new act created a category of senior public officials called "designated public office holders", whose interactions with lobbyists would need to be reported. It also created a Commissioner of Lobbying (to replace the Registrar of Lobbyists), and increased penalties for violations. The coordinator of the group Democracy Watch was strongly critical of the changes, noting that the new rules only covered "oral and arranged communication" between ministers and government officials while exempting written correspondence and chance encounters. After the act officially became law in July 2008, it was discovered that some arranged meetings between ministers, government officials and lobbyists' clients would not have to be reported at all, if the lobbyist who arranged the meeting was not actually present. Lobbyists were not required to report such meetings, and the clients would only be required to do so if they were themselves registered under the act.

In February 2008, Toews and Minister of Public Works Michael Fortier announced that the Harper government would spend $10 million less on public opinion research in its next budget. This decision followed criticism that the government was spending far more on polls than the previous Liberal administrations. Toews' department also shut down the Co-ordination of Access to Information Requests System (CAIRS) in April 2008. Critics argued that the system provided a vital resource for citizens attempting to investigate previously released documents. Toews argued that it was expensive, and slowed access to government information.

During a June 2008 parliamentary debate, Toews described Canadian jurist Louise Arbour, the retiring United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as a "disgrace". He indicated that he made the remarks with respect to her past statements on Israel (during the 2006 Lebanon War, Arbour argued that the killing of innocent civilians by any party could amount to war crimess). This statement was widely criticized. Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay responded that Toews had taken Arbour's remarks "completely out of context", and described his comments as an "appalling" personal attack. Claire L'Heureux-Dubé also criticized Toews' comments, writing that Arbour had avoided taking sides in the Middle East conflict.

Toews was invited to speak at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but declined.

In November 2007, disgraced businessman and lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber filed an affidavit in Ontario Superior Court that contained serious accusations against former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. The Canadian media subsequently reported that Justice officials had prepared a briefing note on Schreiber the previous year, while Toews was still minister. Bureaucrats indicated that neither Toews nor his successor, Rob Nicholson, had read the material. Some columnists suggested that the Conservative ministers may have intentionally avoided briefings on the subject.Minister responsible for Manitoba

Toews is currently the only federal cabinet minister representing a Manitoba riding. In late 2007, he indicated that the Harper government would not prioritize funding for a new football stadium proposed by Winnipeg media mogul David Asper. He later modified his position, and announced in June 2008 that he was interested in moving forward with a revised stadium plan.

Toews's public visibility declined after his reassignment as Treasury Board President, and the Winnipeg Free Press reported in May 2008 that he was not playing a prominent role in discussions about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg or the proposed football stadium.Future plans

Rumours circulated in early 2008 that Toews was planning to retire from politics. In May 2008, it was reported that he was being vetted for a possible appointment to Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench. Some opposition MPs argued that any such appointment would create a conflict of interest situation, as Toews has an active role in choosing the oversight committee. Toews was still a Member of Parliament when the 2008 election was called, however, and is currently seeking re-election.

Family life

It was reported in May 2008 that Toews had separated from his wife of 32 years, following the revelation that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. Some have speculated that this could damage his chances of re-election in his socially conservative riding.


  • When asked about his reading preferences in 1996, Toews said that he recently re-read Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky. He is also a fan of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.
  • Toews bears a passing physical resemblance to Jack Layton, who was chosen as leader of the federal New Democratic Party in 2003. He temporarily shaved off his moustache in 2003 to prevent confusion, and later took part in a comic sketch with Layton at the 2004 Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner.
  • Toews is an avid long-distance runner, and has participated in several marathons.

External links

Electoral record

Note: A subsequent investigation by Elections Manitoba found that Toews overspent by $7,500
in the 1999 campaign.

All electoral information is taken from Elections Canada and Elections Manitoba. Provincial election expenditures refer to individual candidate expenses. Italicized expenditures refer to submitted totals, and are presented when the final reviewed totals are not available.


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