Congrats new senators!

August 27th, 2009
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Never is a long time. It’s this infinite span of time that is thrown at Prime Minister Harper as he appoints senators for the second time. As in “he said he would never appoint un-elected senators”.

Although I can’t recall the PM saying those exact words, no matter, he favoured electing senators for a long time. And guess what? He still does.

How else would one face the paradox of wanting to reform the senate, but having to use the levers of the old appointment system to do it? How else would one have any chance of achieving that reform? Well, one might just do what Mr. Harper has done – hold one’s nose and appoint to fill the vacancies.

The opposition will react with indignation, despite the Liberal’s clear desire to keep the upper house exactly as it is. What a blessing that it’s the summer. Otherwise we’d see Liberal Senator George Baker on CTV selling some shinola about how the government’s attempt at incremental Senate reform can’t work, is hypocritical, or whatever. This hearkens back to Paul Martin criticizing a “piecemeal” approach to reform, saying that “comprehensive” change was needed. Well, when were we ever going to get that, especially from that party?

I campaigned with Stan Waters in 1989, door-knocked with him and delivered literature in a harsh Calgary autumn. So am I happy to see scores of appointments? Not really, but this dilemma is just another harsh collision with reality. It’s either appoint or have the Liberals fill the chamber and, as someone said back in January, kiss senate reform goodbye “for a generation”.

This partly explains the appointments themselves. If the preferred option is to appoint until reform can be attempted, for better or worse you need people who you can rely on to assist in that project. Further, it is the prerogative,m if not the obligation, of the duly elected government to appoint individuals who are committed to the policy goals the government was elected to implement.

I have been fortunate to work with many of the people appointed today. I’m satisfied that they will serve Canada well. They represents as good or better a cross-secion of Canada as do their Liberal colleagues. And I’m convinced they will support term limits for senators and any other incremental changes that can be undertaken.

Speaking of shinola, I’m compelled to comment on a Winnipeg Free Press article that indulges in some, shall we say, creative story telling. Describing Don Plett’s role election as president of the new party, the journalist asserts that he won “with Harper’s vote”.

I thought I’d save this one for my memoirs, but here goes. I was in the room for that vote. The newly elected National Councillors (me included), and the leader, voted for the president – in a secret ballot. We marked our ballots and they were counted in the room by two neutral observers . There was no chance anyone could have known who voted for whom. The journalist gives no source for his statement and, left unchallenged, another media myth will persist.

I can’t hope this small space will make that truth widely known, but there it is. There is a much greater chance that the appointment of my former colleagues moves Canada closer to a reformed senate. Until that is achieved it may have to be (with apologies to dead Liberals) “appointments if necessary, but not necessarily appointments”.

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By John Weissenberger