Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stephen Harper Has Yer Senate Reform Right Here

Harper to appoint 18 Senators

With his government still facing the prospect of defeat early next year -- even if those prospects seem to be narrowing -- Stephen Harper is moving to fill 18 empty chairs in the Senate before Christmas.

The argument being raised within Conservative circles is that this is necessary in order to prevent the Liberal/NDP/Bloc Coalition from stacking the Senate should it stay its plotted course and defeat the government.

That may well be true. Allowing the Coalition to appoint its own lackeys to the Senate -- including Green Party leader Elizabeth May -- could only serve to tilt the balance of power in the Senate on what, considering the tenure of most Senators, could prove to be a permanent basis.

But Canadians shouldn't forget that Stephen Harper has long promised Senate elections in this country. Now, like many other politicians, Harper seems to be choosing political expediency over honouring his promises.

Certainly, he doesn't necessarily bear all of the blame for this. When Harper introduced legislation calling for Senate elections, the Opposition blocked the bill under some fairly pretenses. NDP leader Jack Layton insisted that having appointed and elected Senators would only cause confusion (but naturally failed to mention that "confusion" would be short-lived, only lasting until the appointed Senators left office). Stephane Dion was closer to the mark when he protested the bill would do nothing to address the disproportionate distribution of Senate seats. But again, this was grounds to table another reform bill, not reason to block the particular bill in question.

Harper's move to appoint these 18 Senators -- each of which will almost certainly be partisan Tories -- can't help but resemble an abandonment of Senate reform. Furthermore, the Opposition knows it.

"Once again, it appears Mr. Harper's words are empty, and his principles appear to be ever-shifting," said Liberal Democratic Reform critic Joyce Murray. "Not only does it appear Mr. Harper has abandoned his plans for Senate reform but he has once again demonstrated that his promise to only appoint elected Senators was meaningless just as he did when he appointed Conservative bagman Michael Fortier to the Senate when the Conservatives first came to power in 2006."

And the Liberal party would know quite a bit about appointing their bagmen to the Senate. Sadly, Harper's move to appoint these Senates seems much further from the Senate reform package he had promised and more like former Liberal Prime Minister Louis St Laurent's idea of Senate Reform -- St Laurent once noted that he simply waited for the Conservative Senators to die then replaced them with "good Liberals".

Harper's move actually has much deeper implications for the principle of an elected Senate than some may realize. government of Saskatchewan recently passed legislation mandating Senate elections in that province. Saskatchewan currently has one vacant seat in the Senate which it is reportedly waiting until 2011 to fill via election.

It may seem less than shocking that Stephen Harper would turn out to be a politician not much unlike any other. But many Canadians -- those concerned with the undemocratic nature of the Senate -- had hoped for much, much better from him.

There is no question. Opposition or no Opposition, Stephen Harper failed to deliver Senate Reform.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

The Skinny Dipper - "Your Harper Senate Appointment Predictions"

Matthew Hayday - "Harper and the Senate - or - The Principles of an Amoeba"

Russ Campbell - "Senate Reform Will Have to Wait"


  1. I laughed so hard when I first heard about this. Not being a fan of Harper I am not surprised that he is doing this; but as a Canadian I am disappointed that he decided to break such a simple promise. Even with 18 new Tories the Senate is still massively dominated by the Liberals though. So it`s all good.

  2. Who says we want the Senate to be dominated by Liberals?

    Personally, I think we need to stick to our Senate reform guns. Furthermore, I think we need to push for reform of the Governor General's office, too.


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