Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sober Second Thought

The appointment of Montreal party organizer Michael Fortier to the Senate and Cabinet might force Stephen Harper's hand on the matter of Senate elections because of caucus discontent, according to the Toronto Star :

A day after stunning many Western Conservatives with the appointment of a party organizer to the Senate and then to cabinet, Prime Minister Stephen Harper moved to soothe their feelings, suggesting the Tories may hold Senate elections in conjunction with the next federal vote.

According to caucus sources, Harper said he hopes to be able to fill any remaining vacancies in the Senate the next time voters go to the polls in a federal election — which is likely to happen within the next 18 months.

"The idea is to let Elections Canada run it; there's no need for any constitutional amendment, although there would presumably have to be discussions with the provinces," said a Tory source who was heartened by Harper's pledge.

Harper promised to work toward electing Senators in the recent election campaign, but set no timetable for doing so.


Senate reform is going to be much easier promised than performed.

Stephen Harper has already expressed his preference for appointing Senators who have been elected. But he cannot order the provinces to hold elections for Senate vacancies. Even if such elections could be held without the provinces' consent, Parliament would still have to amend the Constitution Act to fix terms for the Senators or to dissolve the Senate at the same time with the House.

When life appointments were replaced with retirement at age 75 in 1965, previous life appointees were grandfathered to let them stay in the Senate after turning 75: current appointees may demand the same right, and if granted, we'd end up with a Senate where only some of the seats came up for election and others didn't--an awkward situation for any government trying to promote Senate reform.

In the meantime, just as it may be undemocratic for the Prime Minister to appoint the entire Senate, it would be just as irresponsible and undemocratic to let him impede the work of the Senate by allowing vacancies to go unfilled as a means of pressuring the provinces or opposition parties to permit Senate reform.

As long as he has the power of appointment, he should still exercise it.

Source: Toronto Star

2 comments:

Jeff said...

I would be against dissolving the senate at the same time as the house. I would prefer a "mid-term" senate election like they have in the US so that if something went horribly wrong in the house election, the people could somewhat put things back on track with the senate elections.

CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

Harper’s One-Man-Band, and Pretzel Tories.

So, a little time has passed, and Harper’s daring moves to impress the electorate with his political acumen have now sunk in a bit. Reaction across the country to his cabinet appointments – and abandonment of principles espoused during the election – have varied from sheer disbelief, to shock, to amusement. Never has a Canadian politician fallen so far so fast. Usually it takes time for power to corrupt, but Mr. Harper is a man in a hurry.

Many Tories have had to swallow their tongues and bend themselves into pretzels defending the indefensible. Some MPs have said they fear going back to their ridings because they will have to explain to their supporters how the Harper crew did a sudden U-turn on the accountability issue, which, after all, was the Tory strong point in the election. Harper ran as Mr. Clean, and painted Martin as Mr. Corruption at every opportunity he had.

Even the rightwing press is stunned and disappointed.

Examples of press reaction:


The Vancouver Sun:

“"I expected some of the superficial criticism I've seen," Mr. Harper told The Vancouver Sun in an interview. "But I think once people sit back and reflect, they'll understand that this is in the best interests of not just British Columbia but frankly of good government." Mr. Harper referred to his statements on Monday, when he said he recruited Mr. Emerson to Cabinet to give Vancouver -- which didn't elect a Tory MP in five city ridings -- a voice in Cabinet. He used the same rationale to explain why he appointed Tory national campaign co-chairman Michael Fortier, a Montreal businessman, to the Senate and as Minister of Public Works. Montreal, like Vancouver, did not elect a government MP. "I think I was clear what I did and why I did it," Mr. Harper said yesterday.

The Calgary Sun – Roy Clancy:

“Stephen Harper must be breathing a sigh of relief today. Just minutes after being sworn in as prime minister, he relieved himself of one of the biggest burdens he had carried into the job. No longer must he live up to the impossible standard of political purity and ethical integrity saddled upon him by a naive electorate. ...But as widespread moans of anger illustrate, many Canadians took Harper seriously when he promised Monday to "begin a new chapter for Canada." No wonder they were disappointed when they learned within moments that this new chapter looks a lot like the old one. ...Harper's pragmatic moves may not have violated the letter of his promises to change the way government is run, but they shattered the spirit. .... Monday's manoeuvres quickly lowered the bar when it comes to public expectations of this new regime.“

The Calgary Sun - Rick Bell:

“See the Tories wriggle. Wriggle, Tories, wriggle. Ah yes, one party's turncoat is another party's principled politician. No anger now. No demands to step down and face the voters now. No nasty name-calling now. No sympathy for the poor electors of the riding of the quisling now. ... The trouble with talking about the moral high ground is you actually have to walk on it or, like the kid standing by the broken window after throwing the snowball, insist without shame you've done nothing wrong. ... So the rationalizations flow, the lame explanations are exhaled into the hot air and only those who have drunk the Conservative Kool-Aid will follow as good old ideological ants.”

So, what lessons can be taken from Harper’s first exercise of Prime Ministerial power? Here are a few for you to ponder:

• Just as it is unfair to accuse every Republican of having the same moral vacuity that President Bush has displayed, so too is it unfair to say that all Conservatives – and all voters who voted for the Tories – lack good moral and political judgment. It is very clear that there are a lot of people who voted Tory because they sincerely believed that it was time for the Liberals to mend their house, and for another party to bring in some anti-corruption measures. These people still have high standards; they are as bewildered by the events of this week as others are.

• Harper obviously believes he is above trifling things like having to take the feelings of others into consideration. This exercise of Prime Ministerial power shows that he will think things through – apparently mostly on his own – and then decide on the best way forward. If he explains his thought process, it is obvious to him that voters will then understand why he is right, and fall into line. There is a word for this: paternalism. Harper shows clear signs of seeing himself as the Big Wise Daddy of Canadian politics. His use of the word “superficial” to describe the reaction of others to his crass abandonment of some of the major planks of his election platform illustrates this very clearly.

• Harper is focused on winning a majority in the next election, to happen within 18 months. Everything he will do or say is geared to that. If lesser mortals within his own party do not understand this, that is their problem. They must suck it up and stay in line. Big Daddy knows best.

• Harper does not believe in a democratic party for the Tory government. It is his way or the highway (witness Stronach). This is perhaps the most worrisome aspect for many Tories: did they realize they were electing a dictator rather than the leader of a parliamentary party fashioned along the lines of a Westminster democracy? How many more decisions will be made by The Leader, and rammed down the throats of the caucus? And how can Canadians expect such decisions to be the best, if they are not tested by vigorous debate within the governing party before being made?

If Harper continues in the same vein for the next 12 months, expect him to join the ranks of the Clarks, Campbells and Martins as a short-lived blip on the Canadian political firmament.