41st Canadian Parliament
3 min

We’re off to stack the Senate!

The talk of the town today was that Harper plans to stack the Senate before New Year arrives. Of course, “stack” is to be taken pretty loosely, since the Liberals in the Senate outnumber the Conservatives by 58 to 20, and there are currently 18 vacancies. But that aside, it’s possibly the biggest single round of Senate appointments in Canadian history.

Few people are happy about it. Conservative die-hards are upset that it looks like another broken promise after Harper swore he would never appoint a Senator unless they won a nomination election in their home province, excepting of course, Michael Fortier. Harper passes this off as a way to get “reformers” into the Senate to help pass his (unconstitutional) stalled reform legislation.

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, however, was apoplectic with outrage yesterday, as she decried the fact that Harper had no moral authority to appoint them when he had prorogued Parliament to avoid a confidence vote. Harper’s other excuse, mind you, was to appoint them now lest a leftist coalition do it for him.

Now, of course, the vast majority of Canadians don’t have the first clue about the Senate aside from the oft-repeated epithets. Suffice to say, it’s the Senate’s job to catch all the mistakes the Commons lets through in their legislation, and in the past couple of Parliaments, those have been many. (Some of the most egregious portions of the so-called “Federal Accountability Act” and the arts funding portions of Bill C-10 are two very good examples). By not having to worry about re-election, it means they’re by far less partisan and a lot more willing to look at the substance of bills than in scoring political points.

But one of the other great things about the Senate is that, because it’s an appointed body, it’s actually far more diverse and representational of minorities than the Commons, because it doesn’t depend on your typical career politicians (straight white men) to fill it. There are far more women in the Senate than the Commons, and a fair number of people of various ethno-cultural backgrounds. And in the Senate, there also exists the only out Conservative – lesbian senator Nancy Ruth.

Now, while Nancy Ruth had been appointed by Paul Martin as an “Independent Progressive Conservative” (she's one of the reddest Red Tories you'll ever meet), she later joined the Conservative ranks as a means of gaining access, and it’s done her some good as the causes she champions – largely women’s issues – have actually gained some traction including a line item in last year’s budget. But she’s an example of the kind of appointment that Harper could make.

While Harper outwardly says that he wants to appoint “reformers” to the Senate with the express purpose of having allies in there for his unconstitutional plans to reform the Upper Chamber though the backdoor, it also gives him the opportunity to demonstrate that he is committed to the diversity that he pays lip service to and appoint more women and minorities to the Senate, including maybe another gay or lesbian senator or two – even if they are Conservatives.

After all, the Senate is supposed to be a representative body, and we are ten percent(ish) of the population. That said, I’m not all that optimistic that Harper will take that particular consideration to heart. I fear the most we'll get is former Reform Party MP Deborah Grey, who may look like a butch dyke (especially when she's on her motorbike), but very much isn't.

In case you wondered what Belinda Stronach has been up to since she retired from politics, well, she’s still advocating for change in the Liberal Party. Yesterday she wrote an op-ed in the Globe and Mail about the need for the party to move to a one-member-one-vote system for electing future leaders. I do kind of miss her presence on the Hill, as the glamour factor has been greatly diminished in her absence.