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Thursday, December 11, 2008

stephen harper has gone all blagojevich on us!

It's being reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is preparing to open a floodgate of Senate appointment before Christmas.

There are 18 vacancies in the 105-seat Senate and Harper will try to fill as many of those slots as quickly as possible in order to put them out of reach of a Liberal-NDP coalition.
Moves like these make it hard to believe that Harper was one of the original Reform Party Members of Parliament, a Party that had the creation of a Triple E Senate as one of its key principals. Though the Conservatives previously introduced moderate Senate Reform legislation, it died when Harper asked the Governor General to dissolve parliament and call the October 14, 2008 election. The 2008 Conservative election platform (pdf) stated that:
...Stephen Harper believe[s] that the current Senate must be either reformed or abolished. An unelected Senate should not be able to block the will of the elected House in the 21st century.
Principals, promises to Canadians (and to God) aside, it would be an understandable political maneuver on Harper's part, as Liberal Senate-appointees currently number 58 to the Conservatives' 20, but it raises some serious questions about what other principals and promises Harper is willing to toss aside in the name of politics. It makes me struggle to see how Harper's power play politics differ from those of former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, whom some nicknamed the Friendly Dictator.

It's likely the case that many Canadians didn't even notice, but provinces with current Senate vacancies include Newfoundland and Labrador (1), New Brunswick (2), Nova Scotia (3), Prince Edward Island (1), Quebec (4), Ontario (2), Yukon (1), Saskatchewan (1), British Columbia (3).

Will Canadians bare witness to a Chretien- or Pierre Trudeau-style series of appointments? Who would find themselves on Stephen Harper's Christmas Senate wish list? John Reynolds in British Columbia? Michel Fortier or Mario Dumont in Quebec? Doug Finley or Ernie Eves in Ontario? Bernard Lord in New Brunswick? Loyola Hearn in Newfoundland and Labrador? Or will Harper surprise Canadians by appointing a broad range of independent-thinkers with political inclinations?

Or maybe Harper will go super-unconventional and appoint Julie Couillard, Leonard Cohen, Alanis Morissette, Donald Sutherland, and Don Iveson.

In the 21st century, it's hard to believe that an antiquated 19th century institution such as Canada's appointed Senate has succeeded in surviving.

(h/t @davidakin)


Robert Vollman said...

Senator Don Cherry!

Edmonton Girl said...

Senator Don Iveson!!!!!!!!

skdadl said...

Love the title of this post.

Anonymous said...

Don Iveson? He's been a city councilor for what, a year?

May be a great guy (I have no opinion), but come on.

Title is pretty good. I wonder how many people have developed the muscle memory to type Blagojevich yet.

Anonymous said...

ROFMLAO - oh Dave, you're such an alarmist! You complain about Harper doing the very same thing your party has done for decades. But now all of a sudden it's wrong??

I am sure if the PC's had the stack of the senate seats, you would be complaining about that too.

One thing I find about Liberals, nothing ever seems to make them happy. Easy to point out the faults of others, but never when the mirror is turned inward.

Oh - and they only appreciate "democracy" when it suits their cause. I am sure you are all just thrilled about the coronation coming in May. Now that's CHANGE you can believe in!

BTW ... don't you have some more channeling to do for Dr. Swann this week.

Ralph Klein for senator!!

daveberta said...

"You complain about Harper doing the very same thing your party has done for decades. But now all of a sudden it's wrong??"

First, I'm not a member of any Federal Political Party.

Second, I agree with Harper's statement from the 2008 CPC platform about the Senate. In fact, one of the key reasons I don't support the Liberal Party of Canada is because of their stance on the Senate. By appointing Senators, Harper is showing that he's no different than past Liberal Prime Ministers like Chretien or Trudeau, who would happily make appointments to the unelected Senate. Elected it or abolish.

unpopulardissent said...

I think that a certain Anonymous commenter needs to take it upon themselves to learn how to think critically and transcend partisan politics.


Just because someone tends towards a particular party does not mean that they are absolutely complicit in becoming a mouthpiece for partisan politics. In fact, that's the exact opposite of what the party system *should* be doing.

Party discourses need criticism, and by taking advantage of senate appointments (yet again), Stephen Harper is contradicting his own party-line and election promises.

At least the Liberal Party comes out and admits they both support and stack the senate. However, they've obviously got partisan reasons for doing so, and this practice is immensely problematic.

Albertosaurus said...

"but it raises some serious questions about what other principals and promises Harper is willing to toss aside in the name of politics."

Harper's given you the answer to this question - he'll say anything and do anything in the name of politics, promises be damned... as for his principles: what are those?

The Internationalist said...

Is it just me, or is Canada the last Dominion to do this? America got rid of theirs with the 17th amendment or so (uh, actually appointments were by the states and they varied; the 1858 Illinois Lincoln-Douglas showdown was an election, for instance). Australia and practically everyone else has changed to elections. Even Britain has approved the end of the House of Lords as a place for nobles and appointees.

This is even worse then the time you guys got rid of the awesome Governor General outfits! SCHREYER!

Alex said...

To be clear, the Lincoln-Douglas contest was to gain support of the Illinois Legislature who then voted to appoint a Senator. It wasn't an election through popular vote.

Anonymous said...

One of the 'E's of the Triple E Senante stands for equality. Harper may simply be trying to uphold that principle and prevent the 18 seats from all going to central Canada (wouldn't surprise me if this happened under the coalition).
There is probably more of a political motivation at play here...but if this is even part of his motivation I would support it.

Anonymous said...

Anyone concerned with appointed senators vs elected ones need only read Senator Bert Brown's ill-informed partisan bullshit in the letters section of today's National Post to see that there is little difference in the quality of government we'll receive.

Harper never should have made Mr. Brown a Senator. Many of us in Alberta refused our ballots for, what seemed at the time, a pointless exercise that would never result in a real senator.

Not many people took Mr. Brown's candidacy seriously and now it is apparent what an utter partisan hack he is.

We should invoke recall on Senator Bert Brown.

roblaw said...

Dave - thank-you for being genuine.

Seriously.. I just engaged a rabid federal Liberal on Canadian Cynic, and what I asked of him is exactly what you have acknowledged.. that wrong is just wrong.

Harper loses all credibility by making those appointments.. what Conservatives might gain in Senate support, they will lose in their convictions many times over.. either you are in agreement executive patronage appointments or you aren't.. as Conservatives following up on Adscam and the fiasco of the Trudeau and Chretien appointments.. we are supposed to be better.

I appreciate your acknoweldgement, in pointing out our (conservative) hypocrisy, also pointing out the fault of past Liberal governments..

As I posted in my blog today, as bloggers "we engage in honest and occasionally even heated debate.. but we don't lose sight of the reality that there are swine out there.. and if we're not careful, we'll be the ones responsible for putting them in our government."


Bill Given said...

Uhhhh, Dave - is Don old enough to be appointed to the Senate? You know a person has to be 30 years of age right?

daveberta said...

Bill, I said 'unconventional...' :)

Robert Vollman said...

Do you mind if I field one of those questions?

Ok here goes.

The reason it's different is because Harper made a big deal about how the Liberals were unethical, liars, thieves, who put their party first, were arrogant, and had a sense of entitlement. Remember? He made a big deal about how he and his party were different.

And guess what? They're not.

That's the difference.

It would be like if Stephane Dion chumming around with Americans, or Jack Layton proposing business tax cuts, or Gilles Duceppe proposing cuts to arts and culture. It would be more wrong because they've been so critical of their opponents for those things, and talk constantly about being different.

THAT is why it is a big deal that Harper breaks his promises (even if "everyone does it").

Brian Dell said...

These appointments are conditional upon the appointees resigning (or running for election) at such time as the Senate is elected or abolished.

This blog isn't an opportunity for informed discussion when these sort of facts are selectively excluded. It's rather an opportunity to mislead readers.

Kelly said...

Brian Dell, so a Prime Minister is allowed to break his promises as long as his intentions are good?

Scott said...

The Senate should be elected not abolished. The regional balance the Senate brings could be valuable to Canadian democracy.

Appointed Senators are definitely a step backwards to this goal, however Harper's two Senate appointees so far have been either elected (Bert Brown) or have stepped down to run when asked to do so (Michael Fortier). There is then hope that Harper will be able to find 18 qualified, interested persons dedicated to that end when the timing is right.

Sometimes pragmatism trumps idealistic goals, at least in the short-term. Harper appointed Senators are unpalatable for all of the reasons mentioned above, but Senator May goes down far worse.

roblaw said...

..we are supposed to be better than that.. it's not about POWER by any means..

When you say, "sometimes pragmatism trumps idealistic goals"..what you are really saying is, "the ends justify the means".

Not in my mind. Our Prime Minister is letting our party down.. we are sinking into the muck that decimated the Liberals under John Turner, and like the Liberals then, it will come back to haunt us.

Brock said...

How DARE Harper appoint senators!! The nerve of a sitting prime minister to do such a horrible thing!

... This type of manufactured political outrage is exactly what is killing Canadian politics ...

Libarbarian said...

David Climenhaga over at St.Albert Diary ( )notes that, "Prime Minister Stephen Harper does not enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons. As a result, he does not have the right to make appointments to the Senate." David goes on to cite a precedent when the GG refused to approve senate appointments.

Anonymous said...

I am just disappointed that Mr. Harper finally got the opportunity to do something about the Senate, but didn't take advantage of it. He introduced two bills in the House of Commons, but he didn't make either one of them a priority. He put more than 30 other bills ahead of them. It just wasn't a priority. He could have made history by finally doing something meaningful on Senate reform, but instead he let it slide. Now he has just plain given up.

prebpui said...

The federal election in October cost $300 million and helped stave off what would otherwise have been a brutal month for unemployment in Canada.

Maybe Senate elections could be part of the stimulous package?

What will it be, Harper? Jobs for a few thousand election workers, or for 18 Great Canadians?

ktr said...

appoint fortier? The man appointed to the senate to give montreal a seat at the cabinet table, who promised to run in an election and give up his senate seat?
Oh, yes, him. He is no longer the Montreal representative in cabinet as he lots his cabinet post, but don't worry. As I recall, he hasn't given up his senate seat or salary yet.
Reynolds is a gimme. Dumont is doubtful. How bout that swell guy Gurmant Grewal?

Scott said...


When you say the "end justifies the means" you are most likely using a poor translation of Machiavelli's famous line "si guarda al fine". A better translation is "one judges by the result".

I mentioned that I was disappointed that the PM was appointing Senators, but one judges by the result.

By appointing Senators that will at least be morally obligated (although certainly not constitutionally obligated) to run for there seats when/if the Upper Chamber becomes an elected body, Harper has moved incrementally towards an elected Senate.

If the Liberals or "the coalition" were to take power they would be well within their rights to fill the Senate. In fact doing so would be almost laudable considering the vacancy rate. It would be an unforgivable result for Conservatives and would certainly do less to move us closer to an elected Senate. One judges by the result.

To suggest that the Liberals recent electoral strife is due to appointed Senators is to grossly misread the political landscape. A pair of weak ineffectual leaders, leading a fractured party would be a better start. A complete collapse of the Quebec wing after adscam means less seats in vote rich Quebec. A resurgent unified national alternative to the Liberals in Ontario has weakened that stronghold. And a reckless environmental platform as well as general contempt for the West has hurt the party west of Ontario.

Elected Senators is certainly not the ideal result for Conservatives, especially of the old Reform type, but one judges by the result and at this juncture, it is the best result.