Saturday, July 11, 2009

Harper's Senate Appointments Revisited

When Harper announced last December that he would be appointing 18 new senators, it was more than just another broken promise.

We were in the middle of an economic crisis, so it was not very prudent, especially given the mess his government had made of the economy so far.

He has always campaigned on an elected senate and swore he would never ever make senate appointments.

Of course he also said he would never ever allow patronage, nepotism, partisanship or cronyism to determine any government positions. So I guess what this really proves, once again, is that Harper lies.

Though I thought of a new name for his party (he's already changed it from Reform to Alliance to Conservative): The Conservative Family and Friends Network Party. Catchy, isn't it?

Harper blasted for Senate picks
PM's choices include 2 journalists, an athlete and a philanthropist
December 23, 2008
Tonda MacCharles
Bruce Campion-Smith
Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA–Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tapped the ranks of card-carrying Conservatives and others sympathetic to his agenda to fill 18 Senate vacancies, a move critics blasted as an abuse of power at a time when opposition parties are threatening to topple the minority government.

Harper's patronage appointments include broadcasters
Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin, a former separatist politician in Quebec, several defeated Tory candidates and other prominent Conservatives, including the party's chief fundraiser.

The appointments mark a change of heart for Harper, who has derided the Senate and tried to bring in reforms that would cap Senate terms to eight years, as well as start down the path to an elected Senate. But facing possible defeat in just a few weeks, Harper instead moved quickly to fill the existing vacancies with Conservative appointees.

David Christopherson, NDP democratic reform critic, slammed Harper's appointments as "hypocritical and undemocratic." "The problem is that it's filled with so many identifiable Conservative hacks," he said in an interview.

Christopherson said Harper should have waited until after Parliament resumes on Jan. 26 and it becomes clear whether the Tory government will survive threats by the opposition to defeat it.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff did not speak publicly yesterday. In a statement, he said, "in appointing 18 senators while Parliament is prorogued, Stephen Harper has shown once again that he cannot be trusted."

Christopherson (Hamilton Centre) called on Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who must ratify Harper's picks, to hold off until after that date.

He cited a letter by constitutional lawyers to the Montreal newspaper La Presse, saying that a "growing body of expert opinion suggests the Prime Minister may be violating the Constitution by making these appointments without the confidence of the House of Commons."

With another 11 spots due to come open because of retirements in the next 12 months, the Prime Minister will likely be making further appointments, an aide said, if he remains in power.

"Our objective is to get a majority of senators in the Senate who support reform. That is our objective. Once reform is passed, everyone will be standing for elections," he told reporters at a background briefing yesterday.

"Our government will continue to push for a more democratic, accountable and effective Senate," Harper said in a statement that accompanied the list of appointees.

"If Senate vacancies are to be filled, however, they should be filled by the government that Canadians elected rather than by a coalition that no one voted for," he said, referring to the Liberal-NDP coalition agreement that was signed before Harper sought prorogation of Parliament earlier this month to avoid a confidence vote.

Senators may sit until age 75, at an annual salary of $130,400.

There are 105 seats in the Senate. There are 58 Liberals, 38 Conservatives, three Progressive Conservatives, four independents, one independent New Democrat and one senator with no affiliation.

Duffy, 62, a long-time Parliament Hill journalist and host of a politics program on CTV, was named to the upper chamber as a representative for Prince Edward Island. He'll be joined by Wallin, 55, his former colleague, who more recently has served as Canadian consul general in New York City as well as on an independent panel that made recommendations about the future of Canada's Afghan mission. Wallin was a reporter for the Toronto Star from 1978 to 1980.

Nancy Greene Raine, 65, who won gold and silver medals in alpine skiing at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and overall World Cup titles in 1967 and 1968, is also a new senator.

Also among those named are former federal candidates Fabian Manning, defeated in a Newfoundland riding in the recent election; John Wallace, former New Brunswick candidate in 2006; and Yonah Martin, a former B.C. candidate.

Irving Gerstein, credited with filling the party's war chest as head of the Conservative Fund, was named to an Ontario seat, as was Nicole Eaton, who chaired the past two party conventions.

The list includes Michel Rivard, a former Parti Québécois MNA who ran for the Canadian Alliance under Stockwell Day and is an organizer for the right-wing provincial Action démocratique du Québec.
Asked about the optics of appointing a former separatist to the Senate, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office defended Rivard's appointment, saying "people are allowed to change their beliefs."

It also includes Leo Housakos, a prominent Greek Montrealer, long-time Tory supporter and party organizer who is a close friend of Harper press aide Dimitri Soudas. The federal ethics commissioner cleared Soudas and Housakos of allegations they intervened on behalf of a Montreal real estate developer involved in a legal dispute with the public works department.

The Senate appointments are a blow to Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory's political prospects at Queen's Park. Tory, who has been without a seat in the Legislature since losing the October 2007 election to Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberals, had hoped one of his MPPs would be named to the Red Chamber. That would have opened up a seat for him to contest in a by-election.

Joyce Murray, Liberal critic on democratic reform issues, said the "key issue isn't who, it's what and the timing of this."

She said the Prime Minister's failure to honour his promise to only name elected senators, and to do so at a "time of historical lack of confidence in elected leaders," contributes to Canadians' cynicism about public life. The advocacy group Democracy Watch called the appointments a continuation of Harper's practice of "patronage politics as usual, in violation of his promises not to do so."

Tories filled 25 other jobs

OTTAWA–The Harper government approved 25 appointments to federal pension tribunals and employment insurance boards a day after it tabled an economic statement that nearly led to its defeat in the Commons.

Government records show the appointments, to agencies that are used as traditional patronage rewards for party faithful, went through cabinet on Nov. 28.

At least two of the appointments appear to have gone to known Conservatives – one to a party member who lost a Nova Scotia nomination for the October federal election and another to an Ottawa resident the NDP identifies as a well-known Conservative from New Brunswick.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper denied the government rushed the postings through because it feared it would be toppled in a confidence vote the Liberals had threatened for the following Monday.

More Postings on Stephen Harper and His Senate:

1. Why Mike Duffy Must be Removed from Senate

2. Conservatives Use Dirty Tricks To Silence the Senate

3. I think Mike Duffy Has Lost His Mind. What a Horrible Display

4. Senator Pamela Wallin Says It's All About the Military Contracts

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