3 min

The real problem with Harper’s Senate

By now you’ve heard that Stephen Harper has filled two Senate vacancies, and really, it was only a matter of time before it happened. I’m almost surprised he didn’t do it last week so he could make a big show of it, like he did when Senator Ataullahjan was sworn in (which I got to witness). But that’s not the point here. The point here is that as soon as it happened, every media outlet and opposition party jumped up and said, “Oh, Harper’s appointing more senators! He swore he would never appoint them!” But seriously, we need to move past that talking point. As the prime minister under our constitution, he’s actually obligated to appoint them. To not do so was actually an abdication of that responsibility, and it caused a lot of problems in the Senate while committees ground to a halt for insufficient Conservative membership. And so he did his job, and as a great swath of Liberal MPs reach retirement age, Harper has ended up appointing more senators than any other prime minister in Canadian history. Update: Okay, it wasn't the most in history. But it's been a lot in a short period of time.

What we need to start discussing is the quality of his selections rather than be distracted by the fact that he’s appointing them (like he’s supposed to). In this case, he’s appointed a former CFL commissioner who was rumoured to be seeking a nomination (and it is rumoured that he’ll still seek it), and an evangelical pastor who failed to defeat Bob Rae in Toronto Centre (and who also believes that being gay is a choice, but he would still totally represent them on issues like healthcare and housing), but hey, he’s totally an anti-gang activist for his community, right?

But as We The Media and the partisan talking heads obsess about the fact that they’re appointments, we’re not seeing some of the bigger picture – like the fact that Harper is sending them into the Senate with the false notion that they are somehow beholden to him and his unconstitutional plans for Senate reform, as though they were backbenchers (in the words of Senator Elaine McCoy, who is made of awesome), rather than a group of independent parliamentarians whose job it is to explicitly not be beholden to the wishes of the Commons so that they can actually do some sober second thought. That should be the more concerning issue, because it betrays the foundations of our democratic system.

And don’t think this lets the Liberals off the hook. Michael Ignatieff’s decision to appoint former provincial cabinet minister Peter Fonseca to the riding of Mississauga East-Cooksville (running to replace long-time MP Albia Guarnieri, who has MS) despite it being a hotly contested nomination race with 11 candidates is also profoundly undemocratic, and is one of the ills we should actually be addressing in our system rather than all of the other bouts of tinkering people keep proposing.

Speaking of Senator McCoy, she also looks at the politics versus policy implications of Harper’s recent announcement of a natural gas line through the Thetford Mines area of Quebec.

Jack Layton says he’s ready to fight an election next year, but would rather Get Things Done™. Harper, who promises to totally not provoke an election, is also totally not going to fund a Quebec City arena without private funds, and is still holding out that fig leaf of an excuse to fund it.

Here’s a look at how the “debate” (and I use the term loosely) on Bill C-12 – about apportioning new seats into the House of Commons – is proceeding, and it’s not good. This while the government is trying to invoke time allocation on a bill that has seen almost no debate, and a Democratic Reform minister who sees fit to only insult his critics (but no one dares return the favour since he’s in a wheelchair and that would be bullying).

It only took the PMO four years to release the costs of Harper’s trip to the 2006 Stanley Cup game in Edmonton.

Here’s a story about the Crown Collection – works of Canadian art and heritage pieces from various official residences, now on display at Rideau Hall.

And the CRTC took Hell, err, Bell Canada to task and slapped them with a $1.3 million fine for violating the Do Not Call List. About time.
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