Monday, December 22, 2008

Harper Makes His Senate Appointments

Prime Minister appoints 18 to the upper house

A matter of considerable controversy for the last couple of weeks, Stephen Harper announced his appointments to the Senate today.

While some may not be willing to admit to it, Harper's appointments weren't the partisan landslide that many of them were expecting.

It would be disingenuous to pretend that partisan considerations didn't enter Harper's appointments at all. Defeated MP Fabian Manning, former MP Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis, former New Brunswick MLA Percy Mockler, Tory organizer Michael MacDonald, and fundraiser Irving Gerstein seem to round out the most blatantly partisan of the appointments.

Certainly, many will point to retired broadcaster Mike Duffy as similarily partisan. Yet they will conveniently ignore that Duffy has spent his career being accused of partisanship from both sides -- by both Conservatives who dislike journalists who show Canadians any negative aspects of their party, and by Liberals who aren't accustomed to being asked many hard questions.

Similarily, some will certainly try to portray Pamela Wallin's appointment to the Senate as a reward for her role on Harper's Afghanistan Commission. Yet they'll overlook the fact that Wallin has also been the recipient of Liberal party patronage as well -- she has previously served with distinction as the Canadian consul general in New York.

Even when Harper's so-called "window dressing" appointments lack some of those made by past Liberal governments. Nancy Greene, a winner of an Olympic gold medal and an astounding 13 World Cups, certainly cannot compare with Montreal Canadiens great Frank Mahovlich for public appeal. As with Mahovlich, however, Greene's performance in the Senate will tell the tale of her suitability for the chamber -- Mahovlich's performance demonstrated that he had no business being there in the first place.

Another notable appointment is that of Patrick Brazeau, the National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. Brazeau adds a key aboriginal voice to the Conservative caucus, and will challenge the views of many conventional aboriginal leaders such as Phil Fontaine, whom Brazeau has challenged in the past.

As the National Chief of the CAP, Brazeau represents a segment of the aboriginal population that is frequently ignored in Canadian politics -- off-reserve aboriginals.

While many will seek to portray Brazeau's appointment as merely a reward for his support of the Conservative party -- and to an extent it almost certainly is so -- Brazeau will prove to be a valuable addition to the Senate.

The Conservatives have also suggested that each of these Senators will be expected to resign their seat should any of their provinces enact Senate election legislation or call a Senatorial election. Expectations are that Pamela Wallin will be the first to have to do so when Saskatchewan calls a General Election, currently slated for 2011, that is expected to be accompanied by an election for the Senate.

Of course this is a thin answer for the concerns raised by many of those who favour an elected Senate to an appointed body. While the government can expect these Senators to resign in the event an election, it cannot force them to actually do so.

And while elected Senators would have been preferable to any appointment, at least Canadians will not have to tolerate the farce of Green party leader Elizabeth May being appointed to the upper house.

Other bloggers writing on this topic

KenonCanPolitics - "Harper Senate Appointments"

Dirk Buchholz - "Deck the Halls With Patronage Appointments"

Unhyphenated Canadian - "Would You Be On Our Way To Senate Reform If..."

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