Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has railed against the Senate and championed a plan to make it an elected body, has appointed some of his closest Conservative insiders to the Red Chamber - as well as a Stanley Cup-winning coach who has fought a lifelong struggle with illiteracy.

Jacques Demers, who coached the Quebec Nordiques and Montreal Canadiens, among other NHL teams, is now a Conservative senator representing Quebec. His appointment was announced earlier on Thursday, on the website of television network RDS. Demers has been working for that company as a hockey analyst.

Demers made news several years ago by speaking publicly about his difficulties in overcoming illiteracy.

Also filling out the nine vacancies in the Upper House:

  • Doug Finley, Harper's election campaign chair, appointed as an Ontario senator.
  • Don Plett, president of the Conservative Party of Canada and National Councillor, representing Manitoba
  • Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, who recently stepped down from her post as Harper's director of strategic communications, has been rewarded for her more than seven years of service. (New Brunswick).
  • Dennis Patterson, former Northwest Territories premier (Nunavut).
  • Claude Carignan, a lawyer and mayor of Saint-Eustache (Quebec).
  • Linda Frum Sokolowski, a Canadian journalist and bestselling author (Ontario).
  • Kelvin Ogilvie, scientist and past president of Acadia University (Nova Scotia).
  • Judith Seidman, health expert and long-time community service worker (Quebec).

During his time as opposition leader, Harper said he would never make patronage appointments to the Senate.

When asked about how he could reconcile the appointments with his earlier statements, Harper replied: "At the time when there will be elected senators, I intend to elect senators."

"But at the moment, it's only Alberta that organizes such elections," he told reporters in French at a Thursday afternoon news conference in Quebec City. "Now we have nine vacant seats in the Senate, and I intend to have senators that will support the elected government."

Harper has tried to reform the Senate by making it an elected body. After the opposition Liberals blocked the move, the prime minister appointed 18 senators over the Christmas break last year.

Many of those appointees were considered nonpartisan, helping to avoid tough opposition criticism. Journalists Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin, and Olympic skier Nancy Greene Raine were among those awarded seats.

Now it seems Harper is moving towards balancing out the Liberal-dominated Senate by appointing a number of Conservative-minded Canadians to the role.

"He called the Senate 'a dumping ground' for the favoured cronies of the prime minister," said Roger Smith, a parliamentary correspondent with CTV in Ottawa. "Well, he's appointing some of his favoured cronies apparently."

The Tories are expected to control 45 out of the 105 seats in the Senate with the new round of appointments, Smith said.

On Thursday morning, the federal Liberals reacted to the anticipated announcement by issuing a statement about "Senate Harpocrisy." It lists quotes by the prime minister in which he refused to make Senate appointments.

"There will obviously be outrage from the opposition today, but you're going to have to take that with a grain of salt," Smith said. "The Liberals did this for years."

In a statement, the NDP said the new senators will cost Canadian tax payers $3 million per year.

"I think it just shows really that Mr. Harper's not behaving any differently than we used to see with the Liberals," NDP Leader Jack Layton told CTV News Channel.

"That means when we do finally retire the Harper government, (the Senate) will be packed with Conservatives to block the legislation of any future government coming in. It just shows how crazy this system really is," Layton said.

"Having an unelected body that's able to block or pass laws is something that modern democracies got rid of years ago."

Senators receive about $134,000 per year for their work, plus expenses. They're eligible to hold the position until age 75, at which time they must retire.