Senator questions PM's plan for upper chamber
Published Friday, December 12, 2008 8:34AM EST
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 9:43PM EDT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plan to pump 18 Conservative loyalists into vacant Senate seats is good for the effectiveness of the upper chamber, but the motivation is questionable, according to one member.
Harper said as recently as one month ago that Senate reform was a priority for him, and his goal was to make the Red Chamber into an elected body.
The apparent contradiction prompted many to suggest the recent move to stack the Senate is nothing more than a desperate power grab in what could be the dying days of the Harper government.
"With regard to the rumoured filling of the vacancies, you have to look at the motivation," Sen. Wilfred Moore, who was appointed by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien, told CTV's Canada AM.
"Is it just because he's afraid of losing government or is it because he wants the chamber to work, causing him to do his constitutional duty?"
He admitted it is difficult for the Senate to function properly in its current state, particularly when it comes to committees.
"If it does happen I'm pleased the Senate will be filled and the chamber can work properly as one of our two houses or Parliament," he said.
The high rate of empty seats "causes our committees to be undermanned -- and that is the strength of the Senate, I believe."
However, Moore suggested the move might have more to do with Harper's precarious position in government -- a Liberal-NDP coalition could bring the government down in January -- rather than a genuine desire to improve the functionality of Senate.
He said he has been working for two years to get the seats filled. A bill he put forward would require the Governor General to fill Senate seats within six months of their being vacated.
The bill was endorsed by Senate in May and went forward to the House of Commons. However, it was dropped, like all other bills before Parliament, when Commons was suspended last week by the governor general at Harper's request.
"So it's a bit disingenuous to have this happening now," Moore said. "There was the opportunity to do something proper before and it hasn't happened so we'll see what the future holds."
The Senate currently comprises 58 Liberals and 20 Conservatives.
Harper's plan was slammed on Thursday in Ottawa as a desperate power grab.
"This is just a hog-troughing orgy, it seems the Conservatives have tossed their principles out the window," NDP MP Pat Martin told CTV News on Thursday as word about the appointments spread over Parliament Hill.
The announcement was also seen as a sharp policy reversal for the prime minister, who has long been a champion of making the Red Chamber an elected body.
Liberal democratic reform critic Joyce Murray said the appointments "fly in the face" of the Tory election platform and will further erode the public's trust in the current government.
"This is not an act that will restore trust with Canadians, nor will it restore confidence in this prime minister in the eyes of Parliament," she said in a statement.
In the Tory throne speech, which was delivered les than a month ago, Harper said: "Our government believes that Canada is not well-served by the Senate in its current form."
Harper added in the speech that the Tories would continue to push for a new system that accounted for "direct consultations with voters on the selection of senators and limitations on their tenure."
Senior Tory staffers also said that Harper's hand has been forced because the Liberal-heavy Senate is dysfunctional.
"It's an institution that needs to be functioning, and as we look at it now, it's not functioning in its full regime," said Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon Thursday.
Industry Minister Tony Clement echoed those sentiments and stressed that the Tories haven't abandoned their promise of reform.
"We want a Senate that is elected, but clearly, the Liberal-dominated Senate does not want that," he said.
Liberal MP Wayne Easter, meanwhile, said that Harper has no right to make patronage appointments when the House of Commons remains locked in a constitutional grey area.