OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper has gained through appointments to the Senate what he’s been unable to win by elections to the House of Commons: a majority.
The Conservatives took unquestioned control over Canada’s upper house Monday with the naming of two new senators — former CFL commissioner Larry Smith and Don Meredith, a Toronto preacher and failed Conservative candidate.
The appointments give the Conservatives 54 seats, a thin majority in the 105-seat Senate. The Tories have effectively controlled the Senate for the last six months, but this is the first time in 20 years they’ve enjoyed a true majority.
The Liberals have 46 Senate seats, the Progressive Conservatives two, and there are two Independents. One other senator, Raymond Lavigne, has been suspended from the Liberal caucus and is barred from voting in the chamber pending a court ruling on fraud and breach of trust charges.
Harper, who once vowed never to appoint unelected senators, has now named 38 of them.
Senators are entitled to a base salary of $132,300 a year and are eligible to sit in the chamber until age 75.
Smith’s opting for a non-elected post was something of a surprise. Only a month ago, the Conservatives were courting him to run in the Montreal riding of Lac-Saint-Louis in the next election.
However, Smith is scheduled to speak to the Lac-Saint-Louis Conservative association on Tuesday evening, sparking speculation that he may yet seek election.
He didn’t rule out that option in an interview with Radio-Canada.
“We’ll see the options in the months and years to come. But honestly I only have one objective right now. It’s the Senate.”
When he announced last month his retirement as president of the Montreal Alouettes at the end of this year, Smith didn’t rule out a political future.
“I think I’d like to have one more big adventure,” said Smith, who’s enjoyed a varied career as an Alouettes player, CFL commissioner, and newspaper publisher.
Meredith is co-founder of the Greater Toronto Area Faith Alliance, an interfaith group that focuses on finding solutions to youth violence. He has served on community advisory bodies for the Toronto and York Region police forces, as well as the RCMP.
He ran for the Tories in a 2008 byelection against star Liberal Bob Rae in Toronto Centre. Rae won handily, with Meredith taking a paltry 12.5 per cent of the vote.
Harper issued a press release saying Smith and Meredith are “well-regarded and visible figures in their communities who will bring a wealth of experience in business, philanthropy, sport and community initiatives to their new roles as senators.”
He said both have pledged to support the government in its efforts to make the Senate “more democratic and accountable.” He was referring to a bill that would impose an eight-year term limit on senators and another that would allow provinces to elect Senate nominees.
While both Senate reform bills are guaranteed passage through the Tory-controlled upper house, they still face almost certain defeat in the Commons.