Stephen Harper appoints underwhelming batch of new Senators
For Canadian opposition leaders who have opposed Senate reform under extremely specious pretenses, one would have to imagine that an elected Senate must look pretty good today.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed nine new Senators to Canada's upper chamber. His choices are far from inspiring.
One has to wonder if NDP leader Jack Layton is rethinking his argument that Canadians would be confused by Senatorial elections when he reviews Harper's new appointments to the red chamber. Perhaps Stephane Dion would have fewer objections to "piecemeal" reforms, as opposed to broad-sweeping reforms, if he stopped to think about it today.
The Conservative party will henceforth be further represented in the Senate by Jacques Demers, former Nunavut Premier Dennis Patterson, Tory election campaign chairman Doug Finley, Conservative party President Don Plett, Linda Frum, Judith Seidman, former Harper spokesperson Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, Kelvin Ogilvie, and Claude Carignan.
While some of the appointments can be justified on the merit of the appointees, some of them clearly cannot. One further is utterly baffling.
So far as the necessary evil -- necessary so long as the opposition continues to oppose Senate form on less-than-inspired grounds -- of appointed Senators goes, Patterson, Frum, Seidman and Oglivie can be easily justified.
As the former Premier of Nunavut, Patterson can bring his expertise to bear on relations between the federal government and the Territories -- something that has been notably neglected over the past few decades. Patterson was also involved in the negotiations that led to the establishment of Nunavut in the first place. As far as unelected Senators go, Patterson is as worthy as any.
Linda Frum Sokolowski, sister of David Frum and daughter of Barbara Frum, spent three years as a board member of the Ontario Arts Council. Her work as a journalist stands apart -- although infuriating to ideological opponents of conservatism (then again, perhaps that's why she stands apart).
Judith Seidman's work as a medical researcher will help round out expertise on matters related to health care in the Senate.
Former Acadia President Dr Kelvin Oglivie also has solid medical credentials. He's considered by many to be a global leader in biotechnology, including genetic engineering. His appointment will certainly broaden the Senate's expertise on bio-ethics.
While these appointments were wisely made, some were not.
Of those appointments regarding which wisdom was rather lacking, Claude Carignan is the most defensible of them. A Conservative candidate defeated in the 2008 federal election, Carignan was also the mayor of Saint Eustache, Quebec. His presence will certainly help the government in terms of municipal affairs.
When one regards the appointments of Stewart-Olsen, Plett and Finley, one simply expected better from Stephen Harper. Their presence in the Senate is as partisan hacks, pure and simple.
The appointment of Jacques Demers is more than a little puzzling. While his story -- becoming an NHL coach and winning the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 -- is inspiring, his appointment shares the same virtues as that of the Liberal appointment of Frank Mahovolich: slim and none.
At least Liberal MP Ken Dryden -- also a former Hab -- and former Liberal MP Red Kelly had to win to get into Parliament.
When one considers that, in Harper's batch of appointments, only four of the nine can be justified based on their own merits, one has to imagine that an elected Senate must look much better to them now.
An elected Senate certainly wouldn't bar partisan hacks from the upper chamber. But at least in an elected Senate, individuals like Carignan, Finley, Plett, Stewart-Olsen and Demers would have to win an election to get into Parliament.
That prospect alone should help still the tongues of those who, out of partisan self-interest, continue to oppose Senate reform.
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