OTTAWA — The Conservatives will have effective control in both houses of Parliament and greater sway over the legislative agenda after Prime Minister Stephen Harper names five new senators Friday.
The appointment of the new Conservative senators will end years of Liberal domination in the Upper Chamber and leave the Conservatives just two seats shy of a majority there. The power shift could help clear the way for Harper’s plans to reform the Senate itself.
Harper is poised to appoint two senators from Ontario and one each in Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.
An Ontario Progressive Conservative Party source told The Canadian Press late Thursday that former provincial cabinet minister Bob Runciman, currently an opposition member of the provincial legislature, was to be named as a senator from Ontario.
Runciman has long-standing ties to Harper’s side of the Conservative family. He supported the Canadian Alliance in its early days.
In Quebec, victim’s right activist Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu is expected to be named to the Senate.
“I’ve concluded that if the opportunity presented itself, it would be an opportunity to serve the country and to promote the ideas I’ve defended in the areas of justice and public security in Canada,” Boisvenu told Sherbrooke’s Tribune newspaper Wednesday, saying he had not heard from Harper at that point.
Other names circulating include former fisheries minister Loyola Sullivan from Newfoundland, Margaret-Ann Blaney, a former minister in the New Brunswick government or Bernard Valcourt, a former member of the Mulroney cabinet.
Filling the vacancies in the Senate and reconstituting Senate committees to reflect the new Conservative numbers was one of the driving forces behind Harper’s controversial decision to prorogue Parliament.
Control of the Senate floor as well as bulked up numbers on Senate committees should mean a smoother ride for government bills through the legislative process.
More importantly, Harper has said he would like to push ahead with his stalled efforts to make changes to the Senate, such as eight-year term limits and an initial stab at Senate elections in the provinces.
Those changes wouldn’t necessarily require the provincial consent called for in the Constitution. For instance, provinces could hold their own elections for vacant Senate positions and Harper could appoint the victor to the Upper House. But the prime minister knows that the fundamental Senate reform he has championed is impossible without a constitutional amendment and several provinces have said they would not provide the unanimous agreement required to make those changes.
MP Peter Stoffer, one of the most energetic critics of the Senate, says the appointments are another example of the government doing precisely what they said they wouldn’t while in opposition.
Harper’s last set of appointments included former party operations director Doug Finley and former press secretary Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, the kind of nominations that he railed against in the past.
“He’s not using the Senate for reform, he’s using it for power,” said Stoffer.
“We can save $90 million a year with one word: abolition.”
Roger Gibbins, president of think tank Canada West Foundation, says that this next round of appointments is not likely to rankle Conservative supporters in the party’s heartland because they accept it’s necessary for reform.
But Gibbins said the patience with Harper might be strained if they don’t get a sense soon of the master plan.
“It’s becoming increasingly unclear just what the longer term vision of the prime minister is in terms of Senate reform,” said Gibbins.
“People approve of the tactics, but they’re not quite sure anymore what the strategy and what the goal is.”