Two premiers lash out over PM's Senate appointments
Published Thursday, May 19, 2011 10:13PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 4:48AM EDT
Two provincial premiers are now among those criticizing Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his decision to appoint three unsuccessful election candidates to the Senate.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall -- who is viewed as a supporter of Harper -- and Nova Scotia's Darrell Dexter have both lashed out over the move.
Wall leads the Saskatchewan Party, and his roots are in the provincial Progressive Conservatives. Dexter leads an NDP government.
On Wednesday, just minutes after Harper announced his new cabinet and wrapped up a news conference, the PMO sent out a release announcing that "three outstanding Canadians" were being appointed to the Senate.
He named former cabinet minister and Quebec MP Josee Verner, along with two former senators who resigned in order to run -- unsuccessfully -- for seats in commons: Fabian Manning and Larry Smith.
On Thursday, Dexter said the appointments had caused "considerable damage" to Harper's reputation as someone with a drive to create an elected Senate with eight-year terms.
Dexter said the decision appears to be purely politically motivated and runs contrary to the values many expect Harper to espouse.
Wall has also come out and said the appointments fly in the face of Harper's promises.
The point of Senate reform is to have a more democratic institution, he said, but the latest appointments will likely fuel longstanding questions about whether the Senate is even necessary.
Federal New Democrat Leader Jack Layton said the appointments represented a rejection of the voters' will and are likely to turn people off of federal politics.
"It's wrong. This is completely undemocratic, it's a slap in the face to Canadian voters," Layton said.
The winning candidates in both Manning and Smith's riding also criticized the appointments -- though both said they weren't entirely surprised.
Scott Andrews, the Liberal candidate who beat Manning in Newfoundland's Avalon riding, said that during the campaign both Manning and Harper dodged the question about whether Manning would return to the Red Chamber if he lost.
Manning has now been twice rejected by voters in his home riding.
Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, who fended off former CFL commissioner Larry Smith to hold onto his Lac-Saint-Louis riding, had a similar message. He said that during an election debate Smith refused to rule out the possibility that he could return to his old job.
Political messaging expert Barry McLoughlin said the Conservatives may have underestimated the backlash they would face from the appointments.
"It has a bit of a turnstile quality to it for two of them," he said.
In order to win points with the Canadian public, McLoughlin said, Harper needs "to follow up on his Senate reform initiatives -- he's got to get that back on track."
Craig Oliver, CTV's chief political correspondent, said the move follows a long Liberal tradition of stacking the Senate with party loyalists.
However, he said the main difference is that the Conservatives have long argued against Senate appointments being used as political prizes for party supporters.
"And we can never forget that Mr. Harper condemned savagely the Liberals for their use of the Senate and said he would never appoint a senator," Oliver said.
Canadian Taxpayers Association director Derek Fildebrandt took aim at Verner's appointment in particular.
Based on the association's research, he said, Verner will likely be able to keep the nearly $117,000 in severance to which she was entitled, only to join the Red Chamber where she will earn $137,000 per year.
The news release issued by the PMO on Wednesday quoted Harper as saying "our government will continue to push for a more democratic, accountable and effective Senate."
Conservative MP John Baird, who was promoted on Wednesday to the foreign affairs portfolio, defended the Senate appointments.
While they have been characterized as running contrary to the spirit of democratic reform in the Senate, Baird said it is the only way the Conservatives might one day reform the upper chamber.
Sen. Bert Brown, who ran and won twice in Alberta Senate elections, also defended the move.
"It doesn't bother me much," he told CTV's Power Play on Thursday. "The constitution allows the Prime Minister to appoint anyone that he wishes."