3 min

Undermining the institution

Amid cries of hypocrisy, Stephen Harper made nine more Senate appointments yesterday – nine Conservative partisans who are committed to upholding his minority government and the ideals of Senate reform. Appointees include such luminaries as his campaign chairman (and husband to the Minister for Human Resources and Skills Development) Doug Finley, his former press secretary Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, and party president Don Plett. Oh, and a functionally illiterate former hockey coach who was previously critical of the governments cuts to literacy programmes. But hey, he was a hockey coach, and maybe he can help Harper to finally finish that book on hockey he’s been “writing.”

(Incidentally, Harper’s Parliamentary biography lists him as “author, economist, and lecturer,” even though the only books he’s written are his Master’s thesis and his 2003 agreement with Peter MacKay to merge unite the right – which I’m not sure counts – and he’s also never worked as an economist).

Now, let me just say that I have no problem with an appointed Senate. In fact, I think it’s still the way to go as far as the way our democracy works. But I also think that there should be actual criteria that Prime Ministers should set at the beginning of their terms when it comes to the criteria by which they will appoint Senators – things like accomplishments, or ways that they can contribute to the dialogue of governing, or previous public service, or so on. Suffice to say, there can be actual criteria applied. But Harper’s criteria don’t really cut it. For one, his plans for trying to get enough senators to pass his “Senate reform legislation” won’t really matter because the legislation is unconstitutional and would never pass – let alone that piecemeal Senate reform is nothing more than an invitation to disaster because it hasn’t been considered in the larger context of the Canadian Parliamentary system. And it’s also unwise to make these hyper-partisan appointments to a less partisan chamber because it spoils the quality of debate that the Senate has become known for.

Of the nine appointments, the only two that seem to me to be quality ones are Kelvin Ogilvie, a past president of Acadia University and expert in biotechnology, bio-organic chemistry and genetic engineering, and Dennis Patterson, a former premier of the Northwest Territories. Granted, I don’t know how partisan they are, but they have accomplishments other than being backroom players or failed Conservative candidates. Experts in the field, or someone with a history of public service at the end of their career are what appointments should be more like. Too bad Harper has such disdain for the institution that his very appointments to it largely degrade it.

The Liberals, meanwhile, are backing away from the election trigger, saying that they don’t want to fight an election over EI (I guess that really didn’t resonate with the public after all), and it looks like they might not even move non-confidence during their first slated opposition day. Another climb-down? Likely. We’ll see how well they can articulate it (though I fear that we’re at the point where Making Parliament Work™ has become the new drinking game), but I’m starting to think that things may end up being held off until the next budget in the spring.

Manitoba’s NDP Premier Gary Doer has announced that he will be stepping down at some unspecified date in the near future. Doer is currently the longest serving Premier in the country, and has won three back-to-back majority governments. Should Jack Layton be concerned that Doer may be coming after his job next?

And finally, Facebook has indeed agreed to follow the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendations, and she has given them the request year to make the complex technical fixes to implement them. Increased privacy might actually be making a comeback after all.