Friday, May 21, 2010

If You Don't Like It, Elect It

NDP objects to appointment of high-rolling Tory donor to Senate

The Conservative caucus in the Senate has remained stable, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed BC Lions owner David Braley to the upper chamber.

Braley joins Conservative Senator Jacques Demers among the roster of sporting figures who seem to have no business whatsoever in the Senate.

The Liberal Party and the NDP quickly vented their outrage at the appointment, noting that Braley donated $99,000 to the Conservative Party prior to the ban on corporate donations.

“It appears that the reason why he was appointed was because of close to $100,000 worth of donations to Conservatives in recent times,” complained Liberal MP Marlene Jennings. “I think it shows Mr Harper’s extreme cynicism, with regards to Parliament, the value of our constitutional parliamentary democracy, and to Canadians in general.”

One would think it were the first time that a party crony had ever been appointed to the Senate. One would think that the Liberals hadn't done it before, dozens of times.

Braley himself hasn't been shy about his donations to the Tories. It's no secret.

“There’s nothing wrong with donations," he insisted. "I was supporting what I believed in and it worked.”

“There’s no question. I had a very strong inclination toward the Conservative Party,” he concluded.

Paul Dewar took the point on the issue for the NDP.

“You can’t just keep appointing Conservative friends to the Senate and say you are doing things differently,” he said.

The problem for Paul Dewar and the NDP is that Harper and the Conservatives would very much like to do things differently. Unfortunately, the opposition insists on playing games with Senate reform. When Conservative bills are passed in the House of Commons, the formerly-Liberal-dominated Senate holds it up. When the legislation is introduced in the Senate following the Conservative achievement of a plurality, the opposition muses about blocking it in the House of Commons.

The David Braley appointment is cronyism. There's no doubt about it, and even Braley himself seems to implicitly admit it.

But there's clearly a method to this: Prime Minister Harper clearly intends to provoke enough outrage about his own partisan appointments that public support for Senate reform -- term limits, and advisory elections -- will strengthen.

It's a far-superior option to the NDP agenda on the Senate. The NDP wishes to abolish the Senate rather than see it reformed. For whatever purposes they want to abolish it, it isn't quite clear.

If Harper and the Conservatives can successfully make the status quo in regards to the Senate intolerable, a great many Canadians will thank him for the gift of a stronger democracy.

All they have to do is pay the price first.


  1. Your theory is one of the more bizarre explanations of Harper's behaviour in appointing party hacks to the Senate I have heard thus far - but, as the saying goes, it is crazy enough to be true.

    Your theory has a sinister, LeCarre-esque plausibility similar to the theory advanced in the late 1980s and early 1990s to explain why small-c conservatives in North America learned to stop worrying and love fiscal deficits. Proof, indeed, that big government doesn't work! Just as Harper's appointment of hacks to the Senate is proof, indeed, that there should not be a Senate.

    As ingenious as your theory (and, if you're right, Harper's patronage-appointment behaviour) may be, however, it is too clever by half. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. By pursuing this course (if he is), Harper is abdicating his and his government's moral authority. (Just as Reagan, Mulroney and big-government conservatives the world over in the 1980s lost their moral authority to lecture us on the evils of deficit financing.) Even on your terms, if Harper is throwing a long ball by attempting to delegitimize the Senate, he will also delegitimize himself. Whatever (speculative) gains materialize in terms of Senate reform in the long term, he achieves these gains at the risk of all of his political capital on this issue in the short and medium term. Put bluntly, in the eyes of his critics, he makes himself appear a hypocrite and a liar, and nobody to be taken seriously on this issue. If the Senate is eventually reformed, it will not be as a result of Harper but the unpredictable historical forces unleashed by his (in your view, calculated) venality and cronyism.

    Such a strategy, if indeed it is being pursued by Harper, is the stuff of Rube Goldberg. Rather than consistently and on a principled basis campaign for an elected Senate and promote free elections, Harper does the opposite and pretends to sell out . . . so that others far in the future will be so disgusted with him that they finally abolish the Senate? Even if your theory turns out to be right, Harper's bid to encourage long-term Senate reform is not only a riverboat gamble, but a bad deal for himself personally. What does he receive in exchange for this brilliant strategizing? Essentially, ongoing negative PR and a greater or lesser chance at Senate reform a generation from now.

    Not worth the effort, in my opinion, even if Harper was clever enough to have hatched such a cockeyed scheme.

  2. If you pay attention to the messaging coming from the Harper government, I'd say this holds true.

    They keep trying to pass Senate reform bills, the opposition keeps playing games on the matter.

    In effect, the Liberals and NDP keep standing up for the status quo. Unfortunately, this is the status quo, and always has been. It needs to change, and it seems the only way to force the opposition to change the status quo is to make it intolerable.

  3. I think you're probably right, and the longer the Conservatives are the government, the longer they have to make it work.

    I would also point out to The Public Eye that while Harper seems to be picking some youth in his senate picks, about half of his picks will also retire within the next decade, within a couple years of an 8 year term limit.

    In the end, I agree with your title - If the NDP don't like it, elect it or elect enough MPs to appoint their own.

  4. Keep in mind that Harper is also forcing his Senatorial appointments to promise to resign and run for election should the province they represent hold them.

    Unfortunately, Alberta won't be holding an election -- Ed Stelmach is scared of the Wildrose Alliance, who were going to contest the election -- and at least one Senator-in-waiting, Link Byfield, has already said he'll decline to report if appointed.

  5. On reflection, an interesting twist on this strategy would be for Harper to go the appointment route . . . but to appoint ONLY individuals willing to sign a public pledge to vote for Senate-reform legislation. In a way, this would give Harper the best of both worlds: If the appointees honour their pledge, they will progressively delegitimze the Senate; if they welch, they delegitimize both themselves AND the Senate. Either way, Harper comes off smelling like the proverbial rose.

    In a way, this is of course analogous to electing anarchists to public office . . . but then, for those of us who oppose the bureaucratic, suffocating central state, what matters short-term hypocrisy if it gets the job done?

  6. That is what Harper has been doing. He isn't appointing anyone who won't work for Senate reform.

    Sometimes it harms that overall agenda. For example, Bob Runciman was a voice for Senate Reform in the Ontario Legislature at Queen's Park. He apparently wanted to be a Senator rather badly, but he was more valuable to the cause in Toronto.


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