Harper appoints his biggest leadership donor to Senate
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, May 20, 2010 9:26PM EDT
OTTAWA - Stephen Harper has appointed the single biggest donor from his 2004 Conservative party leadership campaign to a $132,000 a year Senate seat.
Sports tycoon David Braley -- whose political donations to Harper, his party and other Conservatives total $99,000 over the last six years -- is the latest Tory partisan punted into Parliament's upper chamber.
The businessman from Hamilton, Ont., owns the B.C. Lions and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. He replaces Conservative senator Wilbert Keon, who reached the mandatory Senate retirement age of 75 just days ago.
"I look forward to working with Mr. Braley and all of our senators as our government works towards a more democratic, accountable and effective Senate," the prime minister said in a news release.
The biography provided by the Prime Minister's Office listed Braley's many philanthropic contributions -- including $5 million for McMaster University -- but not his hefty Conservative donations.
Records unearthed by Liberal researchers show Braley personally donated $16,500 to Harper's 2004 leadership campaign, and his company, Orlick Industries, donated another $30,000. That made him Harper's single biggest supporter.
Orlick also contributed $30,000 to then-Conservative leadership hopeful Belinda Stronach and $10,000 to Tony Clement, although Braley did not personally support either candidate.
Harper -- who came to office saying he would never appoint senators but instead wanted them elected -- has now appointed 33 Conservatives to the 105-seat upper House in the last 18 months.
"It may take 10 years to balance the budget, 10 years to lower taxes, and 10 years to reform people's pension, but it takes only 10 minutes to reward friends with Senate appointments," Harper, as a Reform backbencher, once complained in the House of Commons.
Among his appointees are Doug Finley, the Conservative party campaign director who continues to pen provocative fund-raising letters to party faithful railing against perceived injustices, and Irving Gerstein, chair of the Conservative Fund of Canada.
Harper has typically waited for a number of Senate vacancies to open before making a group appointment, but officials in the Prime Minister's Office say there is too much important legislation to be passed before the summer recess and every Conservative vote is needed.
Those bills include the budget legislation, changes to the federal pardons regime and a bill on mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes.
But Senator Lowell Murray, who sits as a Progressive Conservative and not with the government caucus, is raising concerns about Harper's omnibus budget bill, which he and others say was rushed through the House of Commons by opposition parties fearful of an election.
The massive budget bill contains important legislative changes on everything from environmental assessments and nuclear policy to Canada Post.
Critics say the bill is an abuse of the budget process because it shields what should be stand-alone legislation from proper public and parliamentary scrutiny. They want the Senate to break up bill so that non-budget-specific elements are debated separately.
"What the government is doing with this bill is indefensible -- 880-odd pages, 24 parts, maybe 60 statutes being amended," Murray said in an interview Thursday.
The Conservatives hold 51 of 105 seats in the Senate, two more than the Liberals but not an absolute majority. There are two Progressive Conservatives and three unaffiliated senators.
In an interview with The Canadian Press on Thursday, Braley called his appointment "a great, great honour to have the opportunity to serve your country, your province and your community as a senator."
"It's an opportunity to top off one's career, the way I look at it, and to do something in return for your community to make it a better place."
The PMO press release said Braley, like all Harper appointees, is committed to Senate term limits and elections.
But don't expect to see Braley ever actually running for a Senate seat.
"Frankly, I have no interest in running for office," he told the Vancouver Sun in 2006.
"Could you imagine the kind of politician I would be? I say what I think. That disqualifies me right there."