In the Senate, the new majority is the Harper Party

- January 6th, 2012

While my family and I were out snowshoeing this afternoon, enjoying the last day of our Christmas break, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced seven more appointments to the Senate. When they are sworn in, 43 of the country’s 105 Senators will be Harper appointees. By the time the next federal election rolls around in October, 2015, 62 Senators will be Harper appointees. I hope there is some Parliamentary uber-geek out there who can tell us what other prime minister in the last century enjoyed working with a Senate that was two-thirds filled with his appointees! (I’m guessing, if there was one, it was Mulroney, but, if that’s true, it was because he created new Senate seats to get GST legislation passed.)

Still, the fact that a sitting prime minister will have, at the the time he and his party next face the electorate, appointed two-thirds of the Senate is not notable in itself. Until there is a constitutional change, prime ministers must continue to fill the Senate as they see fit in order to make sure that laws get passed. It’s the system everyone hates but it’s the system we appear to be largely stuck with. But it is notable that someone named Stephen Harper will have what amounts to a commanding Harper Party majority in the Senate for the simple reason that it is very different to reconcile the commanding Harper Majority in the Senate with the following:

  • “Despite the fine work of many individual senators, the Upper House remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister,” Harper’s leadership website said on Jan. 15, 2004.  Harper, then a Reform MP, told the Commons on March 7, 1996: ”Canadians from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia remain ashamed of Canada’s senior legislative body. They are ashamed the prime minister continues the disgraceful, undemocratic appointment of undemocratic Liberals to the undemocratic Senate to pass all too often undemocratic legislation.”  (Toronto Star, Aug 27, 2009)
  • Reform MP Stephen Harper had a blunt response (to a Chretien Senate appointment): “We don’t support any Senate appointments.” (Canadian Press, January 28, 1996)
  • The sharpest attack on [Chretien appointee Nick] Taylor, who ran Alberta’s Grits from 1974-1988, came from Calgary-West Reform MP Stephen Harper. “Mr. Taylor’s only real qualification to the Senate is that he was Liberal leader and had the audacity to continue to be Liberal leader during the period of the National Energy Program.” Harper called Taylor’s instant ascendancy a continuation of Chretien’s policy of “undemocratic appointments of undemocratic Liberals to the undemocratic Senate.” (Calgary Herald, March 8, 1996)
  • Stephen Harper, interview on CTV’s Canada AM on Dec. 10, 1997 with Dan Matheson:

    Harper: The truth is the Senate is a patronage position — virtually a lifetime patronage position — with little responsibility or accountability. And this is the fundamental problem…

    Harper: Look, an elected Senate would have a role. The Senate on paper has a lot of power. If you look at the Constitution Act of 1867 if you elect the Senate it would automatically become an effective body. And there’s no reason that can’t be done, by the way. If you look at the two options, abolition requires a constitutional amendment with the support of every major government in the country. Election only requires –

    Matheson: That’s not going to happen in the short term.

    Harper: Not going to happen. Election-only requires a prime minister who’s willing to allow elections to fill vacancies. If you had that, the Senate would begin to exercise its power and then I think you’d begin to get some consensus on other changes, on what the scheme of representation should be. But there are things all Canadians can agree on. I think if you’re going to have a Senate all Canadians would agree it should be elected, its term should be limited, you should abolish the property qualifications. So, there are things that could be done but it all comes down to the willingness of the prime minister to undertake that.

  • A Conservative government would pass legislation to establish elections in provinces where there are Senate vacancies, [Stephen Harper] said. He promised he’d support whomever won those elections. “In the 21st century, those who want to sit in the Parliament of a democratic state should have a mandate from the people,” Harper said. (On the election campaign in in 2005, from Canwest News Service, Dec. 15, 2005)
  • Stephen Harper, text of speech delivered Dec. 14, 2005 to the Council for National Policy: “Of our two legislative houses, the Senate, our upper house, is appointed, also by the Prime Minister, where he puts buddies, fundraisers and the like. So the Senate also is not very important in our political system.

[I could go on -- there's lots of quotes like these]

Now, to be fair the Conservatives have legislation on the table that would change the Senate, as Harper has long promised. The legislation would accomplish two things. First, it would impose term limits on senators. Senators, now, serve until their 75th birthday. It used to be that senators were appointed for life but that change, to force retirement at 75, was brought in without a constitutional amendment. The Tories are proposed 8- or 9-year term limits. The Liberals could live with 12-year term limits. Second, the Tories will set up a non-binding process that would allow a prime minister to “consult” the provinces about future senate appointments. Some provinces, such as Alberta, have already held senate “elections” and one senator, Bert Brown, is in the upper chamber through that process. BC’s Christy Clark, Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall and New Brunswick’s David Alward (there may be others so please send ‘em in if I missed one) have indicated they, too, are ready to do elections for Senate nominees. Still, the election would be “non-binding”. A prime minister could choose to ignore this process and, with the full weight of the law on his or her side, use other criteria for selecting a senator.

The Harper gang has said in the past that, despite their earlier affirmations that they would not appoint Senators, they were forced to do so because of the Liberal majority in the Senate when Harper took office in 2006. They were forced to appoint Conservative Senators, they said, because the Liberal Senate majority was frustrating their legislative agenda. Only problem with that argument now is that there is no more Liberal majority in the Senate frustrating Conservative plans. So for those who were prepared to grant them the realpolitike excuse that they couldn’t reform the Senate without doing what they said wouldn’t do and appoint more Senators, what’s the excuse now? The Conservatives had a majority at noon today. Four-and-a-half hours later, when the PMO issued a press release late on a Friday afternoon (and hours after Harper had a rare media availability in Edmonton where he would almost certainly have faced questions over the Senate appointments if only we knew they were coming after he was done), the Conservatives still have a majority — but the country has seven new Senators appointed in the same old-fashioned way most of the country — including Stephen Harper once upon a time — never liked.

 

 

 

Categories: Politics/Conservatives

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16 comments

  1. John says:

    So what do you propose. Leave the vacancies so the next government can make the apointments? You realize no doubt that both the Liberals and the NDP would do the same thing if that happened to be their party? And why would a Conservative PM allow that to happen? Or perhaps you would have them re-open the constitution to change things? And no doubt you know that requires a majority of the provinces to agree. I should also point out that the PM has made it clear that he will appoint senators from provinces who are agreeable to holding an election and selecting candidates this way, but so are not too many have taken the offer. I’m always interested in media types’ opinions who are quick to condemn, but not so quick to supply answers or solutions.

  2. John says:

    Meant to say ‘but so far not too many have taken the offer.’

  3. Crothers says:

    Akin knows well and good that the old Mulroney senators aren’t really under Harper’s control.

    Its why Harper’s senate reform legislation was introduced into the house after it had originally been supposed to start in the senate.

    David Akin knows this. And failed to mention it.

    Even some of the new senators Harper put there have turned on the idea of senate reform in their public statements.

    The real politik “excuse” (thanks for the concern trolling) is still operative.

    This legislation will be passed in the house and then hopefully we can steamroll over the recalcitrant Mulroney senators and have enough votes to make up for the weak kneed Harper senators.

    Its going to take every single senate appointtee. And maybe 7 more if Harper needs to invoke the constitutional option.

    But don’t let facts get in the way of a good concern troll gotcha Mr. Akin. Or “reform is dead” meta narrative in your reporting. Or whatever else you modern day bards get into intsead of giving us just the facts ma’am.

  4. hollinm says:

    Akin you know that without a Senate the federal government would grind to a halt because no bills would be approved. It is part of our system whether we like it or not. So quit being disingenuous. All opposition leaders over the years have railed against the senate but nobody wants to do the hard work of opening the constitution to make changes or even abolish it. So we have what we have and nothing Harper has said over the years has changed that. However, he is trying to make incremental changes and reducing the term limit is a good start. If that is all that happens that can be a good thing.
    Harper is appointing Senators who he thinks will help him make the changes necessary. He is appointing Conservatives just as the Libs appointed their cronies for many, many years. Nobody complained about a Chretien senate despite them having the ability to rubber stamp anything the majority Liberal governments did in the past 13 years and back. So knock it off.

  5. Darrell says:

    Fyi, number of total #Senate apptmts per PM: Trudeau, 81; Mulroney, 57; Chretien, 75; Martin, 17; Harper, 48. bit.ly/yfBe6w #cdnpoli
    Susan Delcourt

    David you are a anti-Harper hack.

  6. Hi, what? says:

    Umm, the change from lifetime appointments to mandatory retirement WAS brought about by constitutional amendment. See the Constitution Act, 1965.

  7. David Akin says:

    @Darrell: Thanks for your confidence Darrell, but I will clarify. Susan is quoting the total number of Senate appointments each PM made. My numbers breakdown CURRENT senators by the PM that appointed them. So, while it’s true Trudeau appointed 81 senators, just 5 of Trudeau’s appointees remain in the Senate. And so when you look at the Senate in a couple of years from now, 62 or nearly two-thirds will be “Harper” senators.

  8. Charlie says:

    Thank you Mr. Akin for pointing out what is obvious to those of us who have shed the skin of the Harper dictatorship. This gang of thugs is the epitome of the old adage of ‘power corrupts’. Harper’s arrogance and hypocrisy will lead to his penultimate fall from grace. I was once a supporter, but no more – and never again.

  9. denis p says:

    Akin, if you hate Harper, like Ibbitson said the PPG did in the G&m, just admit it. You don’t have to constantly turn yourself inside out and spew anti-Harper venom. We know you’re a liberal troll. Pathetic really.

  10. Miss Tury says:

    It’s rather hard to think that all of our laws and the policy changes that will be made to our country under Harper will in the end never have been debated or fine tuned or made into the best policies for the country, they will be Harper’s back room gangsters tearing the country apart and it being rubber stamped by a bunch of Harper appointees that are there under agreement to rubber stamp papers they will never have to read so that the Senate can be jiggered with. What kind of low-lives would even consider doing that to our country? Well, to this point I didn’t mention the huge salary for your bribed vote. Shades of Chuck Cadman all over this party.

  11. Tedley says:

    Only one little problem with Harper’s plan to have provinces elect senatorial candidates: the provincial legislation (including Alberta’s) is ultra vires and unconstitutional. That is, nothing in the Constitution Act, 1867, gives provinces the power to enact legislation for the selection of senators, which is a federal matter. All we need is for one person to challenge such legislation in court, and that will happen when Quebec launches a constitutional challenge of the Senate reform bill. That’s why the Harper Govt has refused to refer the bill to the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion.

  12. GhostofJack says:

    Harper would have elected senators but the NDP and Liberals opposed him. He has been forced to appoint senators, but has encouraged provines to elect candidates. What is wrong with that? Let me answer: His appointees aren’t leftists. That’s the burr up leftist’s backsides, who know Harper didn’t have a choice if he ever wants true senate reform. In other words, blaming the PM for appointing senators is just a hypocritical cheap shot.

  13. Ian says:

    If the Senate is so undemocratic with appointed political hacks and has-beens as Mr. Harper has suggested, the logical solution would be to abolish the Senate. How about advocating for a Triple-A Senate: Anachronistic, Archaic and Abolished!

  14. Ray says:

    What if after each election each party was able to appoint a percentage of senators based on the proportion of votes garnered in that election. This would ensure every vote cast counted and foster sober second thought. Party leaders would be careful to ensure regional representation or risk the ire of the voters in the coming elections.

    The senators that have been appointed by this pm have been an insult to the chamber, the electorate that rejected them and the democratic process.

  15. Carl Seabrook says:

    Greedy Ministers only get what they deserve and Harper will go down the same road as Brian Mulroney, wait and see.

  16. S says:

    I would say that if I was harper that I would do away with the senate altogether because they are not elected, yet 2 prime ministers have been senators. Anybody the party chooses to run for leader can, including senators. In case you have forgotten, senators are appointed and not elected, but 2 have run a democracy. How can one be a democracy if 2 of its’ prime ministers weren’t elected in the first place?

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