Is this the kind of appointment a minority prime minister should make to the unreformed Senate of Canada?

May 22nd, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
David Braley, owner and president of Orlick Industries Limited, a leading Ontario auto parts manufacturer, also once owned the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the Canadian Football League, and now owns both the BC Lions and the Toronto Argonauts. He has given substantial sums of money to both Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada as well (along with local hospitals and so forth). And Mr. Harper has now appointed him to the unreformed Senate of Canada. Nice work if you can get it.

David Braley, owner and president of Orlick Industries Limited, a leading Ontario auto parts manufacturer, also once owned the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the Canadian Football League, and now owns both the BC Lions and the Toronto Argonauts. He has given substantial sums of money to both Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada as well (along with local hospitals and so forth). And Mr. Harper has now appointed him to the unreformed Senate of Canada. Nice work if you can get it.

Jane Taber reports that “Conservatives are vigorously defending the appointment  of CFL tycoon David Braley to the Senate against Liberal suggestions he basically bought his way into the Red Chamber through thousands of dollars of donations to Stephen Harper.”

(Or, as The News from Pictou County, Nova Scotia has explained: “Braley, a businessman from Hamilton, Ont., and owner of the BC Lions and the Toronto Argonauts … happened to be the largest donor to Harper’s 2004 leadership campaign, with a sum of $16,500. He’s reportedly given a total of $99,000 over the last six years to Harper, the party and other Conservatives.”)

Recently distributed Conservative talking points apparently urge that the Grits’ stress on “donations to the party ignore Mr. Braley’s accomplishments as a businessman and community leader … he recently donated $10-million for cardiac and stroke research at the Hamilton General Hospital … Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals are so small-minded that they have nothing better to do than play political games with the appointment to the Senate of a worthy Canadian.”

Well … maybe? (Who can really say what makes any Canadian “worthy”?) But what still lends Mr. Harper’s rather astonishing record of unreformed Senate appointments since late 2008 its undeniably tawdry veneer is slightly more subtle. It isn’t just that after attacking the bad old ways of the former natural governing party of Canada with such self-righteous ferocity for so long, he has taken up these bad old ways himself with such blatant hypocrisy. In his new-found passion for the dark arts of Liberal neo-Machiavellianism in Ottawa, Stephen Harper has also almost completely ignored the intermittent higher-minded gestures that used to make the dark arts tolerable (because as “Canada’s first and perhaps only genuine intellectual” Harold Innis once reminded us, “what is the alternative?” etc, etc).

It is more than arguable, eg, that even on the old neo-Machiavellian rules a minority prime minister ought to exercise a certain degree of rank partisan  restraint in Senate appointments. And you can see this intermittent higher-minded philosophy at work in the appointments of Liberal minority prime minister Paul Martin, who preceded Mr. Harper.

As matters stand, 16 of the current 105 senators in the fabled Red Chamber were appointed by Mr. Martin. And it is no surprise that an even dozen sit as Liberals in the Senate today. At the same time, in a bow to the intimations of non-partisanship that used to be thought appropriate in minority (and sometimes even majority) parliaments, three of Mr. Martin’s Senate appointees now sit as supporters of Mr. Harper’s new Conservative Party of Canada, while one sits with the surviving miniature rump of pre-Harperite “Progressive Conservatives.”

Stephen Harper, on the other hand, has so far made a quite remarkable 34 Senate appointments. The first of these involved Canada’s so-called second “elected senator” from Alberta, Bert Brown, on July 10, 2007. The remaining 33 — from the first batch of 15 that officially took effect on January 2, 2009 all the way to David Braley, just this past May 20, 2010 — have been strictly old-fashioned patronage appointments on the ancient unreformed Senate of Canada model. And all 34 of Mr. Harper’s minority-government appointments sit as more or less resolute supporters of his new Conservative Party of Canada in the Senate today.

Stephen Harper and his assorted spin doctors can (and do) offer an assortment of excuses for this over-aggressive partisanship, from a prime minister whose party a clear democratic majority of Canadians have twice voted against. But in the end the plain truth remains.

It is more than a little absurd for those who have come to practise the old dark arts so enthusiastically — and with such almost always lower-order motivations — to complain about how their opponents “are so small-minded that they have nothing better to do than play political games with the appointment to the Senate of a worthy Canadian.”

Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was appointed by Liberal minority prime minister Paul Martin in August 2005. Many members of all and/or no political parties in Canada would agree that Mr. Segal has a long record of high public service. And this is the kind of nonpartisan appointment that has intermittently redeemed the reputation of the unreformed Senate of Canada. Minority prime minister Stephen Harper has yet to make such an appointment.

Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was appointed by Liberal minority prime minister Paul Martin in August 2005. Many members of all and/or no political parties in Canada would agree that Mr. Segal has a long record of high public service. And this is the kind of nonpartisan appointment that has intermittently redeemed the reputation of the unreformed Senate of Canada. Minority prime minister Stephen Harper has yet to make such an appointment.

(Please, Mr. Harper and Mr. Soudas, etc, give us unworthy, not-at-all-so-rich plain people of Canada a break. We also work hard and it is our country too. And we are not quite as dumb as you seem to think. As The News from Pictou has observed: “Harper’s appointees have been put there with the understanding that they will slavishly support his initiatives, rather than engage in the sober second thought the senate is supposed” to demonstrate. And that really “negates …  the value of the upper body.” Or in words from a newspaper to the west of Pictou, usually quite sympathetic to the Conservative Party of Canada — written by the Vancouver writer and blogger, Adrian MacNair: “Although appointing another Conservative loyalist isn’t much of a surprise these days, the fact that Mr. Braley is one of the largest Conservative donors is … For a man who spent a large part of his career condemning the very things he is now doing, Stephen Harper is ably demonstrating a need for immediate Senate reform.”)

Meanwhile, for those who really like to wallow in statistics …

The current standings in the unreformed Senate of Canada are: Conservative Party — 51 ; Liberal Party — 49 ; Progressive Conservative — 2 ; Independent — 2 ; “Non-aligned” — 1 ; Vacant — 0 ; TOTAL — 105.  (Without Paul Martin’s three Conservative appointments, the Liberals would still outnumber the Conservatives!)

More unreformed senators now owe their appointments to Stephen Harper than to any other prime minister. The distribution of the current 105 seats by appointing prime minister is: Stephen Harper (Conservative) — 34 ; Jean Chrétien (Liberal) — 32 ; Paul Martin (Liberal) — 16 ; Brian Mulroney (Progressive Conservative) — 15 ; Pierre Trudeau (Liberal) — 7 ; Joe Clark (Progressive Conservative) — 1.

Among the current 51 Conservative senators, Stephen Harper appointed 34, Brian Mulroney appointed 14, and Paul Martin appointed 3. Among the current 49 Liberal senators, Jean Chrétien appointed 32, Paul Martin appointed 12, and Pierre Trudeau appointed 5.

There are two so-called Progressive Conservative senators at the moment: one was appointed by Paul Martin and one by Joe Clark. There are another two so-called Independent senators: one was appointed by Brian Mulroney and one by Pierre Trudeau.

The current 105th senator, as it were, is Anne Cools, and she is in something of a class by herself (sometimes called “non-aligned”). She was appointed in 1984 by Pierre Trudeau and sat for many years as a Liberal. She became increasingly critical of the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, and of same-sex marriage, however, and on June 8, 2004, she  crossed the floor to join the Conservative Party of Canada. Then on June 25, 2007 she was “removed from the Conservative caucus for speaking out against Prime Minister Harper and for voting against the 2007 budget.”

There is a further non-partisan wrinkle in Paul Martin’s Senate appointments. He appointed “[m]ember of the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, Dr. Lillian Eva Dyck … well-known as an advocate for women and Aboriginals and … a leading figure and role model in Canada’s scientific community” in March 2005. She “initially chose to associate herself with the NDP … However the party did not allow her to be part of the parliamentary caucus, as the NDP favours the abolition of the Canadian Senate. Dyck sat in the Senate as an Independent New Democrat from March 24, 2005 until January 15, 2009, when she joined the Liberal Party caucus.”

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