As someone who’s long defended the Senate in its present form and has argued that if “reform” is to take place then rather than the trimming around the edges that Harper has been practicing, it needs to be of a more fundamental and sweeping kind that would address, for example, the regional inequalities inherent in the present arrangement, it would be kind of unseemly and hypocritical of me to criticize Stephen Harper for his proposed pre-Xmas “stuffing” of the Senate with 18 Conservative appointments.
That, my friends, is the way the system works. Or at least has worked throughout most of its history. Only Sir John A. Macdonald, John Thompson, Pierre Trudeau and Paul Martin recommended with any frequency the appointment of Senators belonging to opposition parties; all together, only six opposition Senators have been appointed on the recommendation of other Prime Ministers. For what it’s worth, during his tenure as PM, Paul Martin appointed 17 senators (12 Liberals, 4 Conservatives and 1 NDP). It would nice to have seen that slightly more balanced and ecumenical approach continue, but it was, as noted, the exception rather than the rule.
So, I’m not going to accuse Harper of being a hypocrite in this instance, although it does seem somewhat interesting that the fellow who last week was howling with outrage about the “undemocratic” maneuvering of the opposition coalition and was wrapping himself in the flag, touting the patriotic virtues of “democracy” would: rely on the “undemocratically” appointed vice-regal Governor General to grant him the authority to shutter parliament under prorogation; and would then utilize the shut-down of the House of Commons to increase the Conservatives’ influence in the Senate, a place that we can all agree, is profoundly “undemocratic” by nature. Rather funny that.
Another seeming paradox to Harper’s appointments comes from an anonymous government official who states that each new senator “will be a Conservative and is likely to share the prime minister’s views on Senate reform.” Really? Well, it’s a little hard to see how becoming part of the “problem” (if you want to call it that) will advance the cause of “reform” but that’s not to say there isn’t method to Harper’s madness, so to speak.
In a speech to his caucus two years ago, Harper said: “Imagine that after a century and a half, democracy will finally come to the Senate of Canada.” Well, for the time being at least, it looks like “democracy” will remain something that’s simply imagined and, as Martha Stewart would say, “that’s a good thing.”
Update: Here’s an example of the quality of Senators that we’re likely to get from the Conservatives by way of the “democratic” process. I believe this fellow was “elected” by the voters of Alberta — twice! Good grief, he’s dumb as a bag of rocks.