Senate picks

Newfoundland and Labrador (1 seat) – Fabian Manning

Price Edward Island (1 seat) – Mike Duffy

Nova Scotia (3 seats) – Dr. John Hamm, Michael MacDonald, Stewart McInnes

New Brunswick (2 seats) – Bernard Lord, Doug Finley

Quebec (4 seats) – Mario Dumont, William Shatner, Tasha Kheirridin

Ontario (2 seats) – Irving Gerstein, Sandra Buckler

Saskatchwan (1 seat) – Leave open

British Columbia (3 seats) – Michael Walker, John Weissenberger, Lorne Mayencourt

Yukon (1 seat) – Leslie Neilson

The appointment of Fabian Manning to the Senate from Newfoundland would send a signal to Premier Danny Williams that if he wants to deal with the federal government, he’ll do it through the man into whose fields he’s been plowing salt for the last few years.  Newfoundlanders would respect and admire the cheekiness of that move.

In PEI, Mike Duffy would be a good choice. Duffy’s been a veteran broadcaster and public figure for decades. He’s also the island’s favourite son and would be a good representative in the Red Chamber.

In Nova Scotia, former Premier John Hamm is a stateman for Nova Scotia and is respected by all no matter their partisan stripe. Michael McDonald has been Harper’s point man in Nova Scotia for years serving on National Council and running twice federally and thrice provincially. He also serves as a liason between federal and provincial parties. Stewart McInnes is a fixture in Nova Scotia PC politics. A former Mulroney cabinet minister, McInnes resigned as fundrasier for the PC Party of Nova Scotia just hours ago .  Does this mean he’s up for another job?

New Brunswick has an obvious choice in Bernard Lord. The former PC Premier has been integrated on the strategic side of federal politics for some time. Lord was the national co-chair of the 2008 federal campaign and provides a bridge to the Charest side of the conservative family.  Current director of CPC operations Doug Finley is a shoo-in for the Senate, in my opinion. Senator David Smith has run campaigns for the Liberals for some time from the Red Chamber so the appointment of Doug Finley would be seen as an acceptable move by the PM.

Quebec presents a challenge to Stephen Harper as the PM has toiled spending the last few years building a fledgling organization in that province. There aren’t too many Conservatives there who have been around for a generation of the modern Conservative movement. Mario Dumont made his exit from Quebec politics this week and may find his return as a senator from Quebec. Dumont has been an ally of the Prime Minister and this would satiate the smaller ADQ elements in Harper’s Quebec machine.  William Shatner is a conservative from Montreal and was the first Canadian in space (he did and did so boldly). Shatner would be a nod to Quebec’s arts community and would be noteworthy because in itself! Women will be on the PM’s shortlist for the senate and Quebec author and standard-bearer for the conservative movement in Quebec Tasha Kheiriddin would be a good choice.

In Ontario, senior Conservatives that I’ve spoken to would be surprised if Irving Gerstein was not named to the Senate.  Gerstein is the head of the Conservative fund, the fundraising organization for the Conservative Party.  Sandra Buckler’s name has also made the short list for Senate.  As Stephen Harper’s director of communications, Buckler is and remains a loyalist who fought for the PM in the trenches and pushed the Conservative agenda against the rough grain of the MSM.  I would be very happy to see Buckler return to the fold so that she can have the resources to fight even harder as a hard-nosed, no prisoners activist for Conservative cause.

Saskatchewan presents an interesting challenge. The province has committed to hold an election for the Senate next year. Let them. If Harper holds off on appointing a senator and a coalition government swoops in and does this anyway, the damage to those parties in the province would be irreperable. If the Prime Minister does appoint a senator from Saskatchewan, my choice would be Elwin Hermanson, the founder of the Saskatchewan Party.

In British Columbia there are a few people lobbying for a seat, among them is Gurmant Grewal (not gonna happen).  Another person’s name I’ve heard passed about has been that of John Reynolds.  Likely senators that the PM may appoint include Michael Walker (founder of the Fraser Institute), Lorne Mayencourt (party loyalist) and John Weissenberger (former ministerial chief of staff and founding member of the Reform Party).  Weissenberger is the type who would resign immediately to elect a senator if given the chance.  Longer shots are former MP Betty Hinton and Conservative national councillor Hamish Marshall.

Yukon territory also has a senate seat free. I’d pick Leslie Neilson because he’s a prominant conservative Canadian from the Yukon and his brother Erik was deputy Prime Minister. Neilson is most famous for the Naked Gun movies and has campaigned for charity for the March of Dimes.

I find it deeply unfortunate and immensely frustrating that the PM has been forced into this position of appointing senators. Ideally, as conservatives, we’d like to have them all elected.  The appointment of Senators is a defensive measure by the PM as a coalition government would appoint senators uninterested in senate reform or worse, with separatist sympathies. I would want the PM to secure a pledge from any appointed senator that they would resign and/or stand for election at the earliest opportunity. The appointment of Senators should only be a temporary measure as provinces commit to holding elections.

UPDATE: As some readers point out correctly, Shatner (77) and Neilson (82) are too old (in the constitutional sense) for the senate. The lower age limit is 30 and the upper limit is 75. Could Shatner launch a successful Charter challenge? Or could he slingshot himself around the sun and return to 1986?

So we have a couple of spots open in Quebec and one in the Yukon. Who would you name to the Senate?

Whistleblower stomped by unaccountable Senate

I cannot believe the news that has been swirling around the city in the past couple of days about Tory staffer Jeffrey Kroeker. Kroeker was reprimanded by a Senate report from the board of Internal Economy for having the audacity to blow the whistle on a junket taken by Senators to Dubai last year.

CTV had the original report of the trip:

Canadian senators waited in an expensive Dubai hotel for seven days after a failed attempt to reach Afghanistan when the military had warned them not to attempt the trip in the first place, CTV News has learned.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny had hoped to take his National Security Committee to Kandahar province for a fact-finding trip, as well as Dubai — a city in the United Arab Emirates that is trying to become a global business hub. Instead, the senators ended up spending seven days in Dubai.

The total hotel bill came to more than $30,000. Plane fare, meals and other expenses were not included.

CTV reported then that it obtained the information from a “leak”.

We now know that the information came from Jeffrey Kroeker, then a staffer for Conservative Senator Marjorie Lebreton.

Kroeker should be commended for bringing the excesses of the Canadian Senate to the attention of the public. Unfortunately Joan Bryden of CP makes an unfortunate comparison to the bureaucrat that was arrested two days ago for leaking the Tory’s Green Plan:

Coming a day after a federal contract employee was hauled off in handcuffs for allegedly leaking a draft of the government’s climate change plan, Liberal Senate Leader Celine Hervieux-Payette questioned how the Tories can sanction keeping Kroeker in the employ of a cabinet minister.

Of course, the situations of Kroeker and the Green Plan leaker Jeff Monaghan are completely different as Monaghan leaked government policy whereas Kroeker made available information that the Senate has actually chosen to keep itself exempt from revealing — yes, the Senate is not accountable to Access to Information requests. With respect to the environment leak, Monaghan broke his oath to keep state secrets. While the cost of junket to Dubai was meant to be kept secret by Kenny and his co-travelers, the information hardly represented any information critical to policy/security or governance. Kroeker simply blew the whistle on Senate excess. While Monaghan was an activist who leaked confidential and secret government policy that he didn’t agree with, Kroeker acted to disseminate information on the extravagant expenses of a handful of senators from the Upper Chamber which has exempted itself from the kind of transparency that keeps other facets of government accountable. Moreover, these expenses were not authorized by the Senate.

We have now learned that the Senate “investigated” Kroeker’s act in total secret and the investigation was conducted by a Senate sub-committee. Kenny himself sits on the board of internal economy, which had oversight over the investigative sub-committee, however Kenny did not think to recuse himself.

Bryden also makes an unfortunate omission in her article. She writes,

The rebuke of Jeffrey Kroeker was contained in a unanimous report of the Senate’s committee on internal economy. The 15-member committee includes four Conservative senators.

The description of a “unanimous report” is misleading here because “unanimous” means that the decision to table the report was unanimous, but the acceptance of the report was hardly the same.

In summary, what do we have here?

Unaccountable senators, part of an unaccountable Senate — the lack of transparency of that body is reflected by its lack of public accounting and disclosure — went on a seven day junket to Dubai at the cost of $30,000 to the Canadian taxpayer. The purpose of the trip was to observe the operations in Kandahar, however, it was expressed to the Senators that this leg of the trip would not happen therefore making the excursion overseas useless. Nevertheless, the senators spent seven days in the hotel, only attended two meetings, and “wrote a report”. However, CTV’s original article includes a quote from Sen. Tommy Banks that the report for the most part was written before the trip was taken. The Vice Chief of Defence Staff in two separate letters confirmed that Senator Kenny was fully aware that they could not get into Afghanistan and as such, should have canceled that leg of the trip. When Kroeker learned what they had done by staying the hotel for over a week, he knew that they had gone beyond the authorized expenses of the Senate and as such, he decided to research the costs. When he saw how galling the expenses were he made the decision to blow the whistle. What the senators did was grossly unfair to taxpayers.

Kroeker should be commended, not condemned.

This seems like politically motivated retribution by a Liberal dominated Senate for the whistleblowing act of a Tory staffer. Why should the cost of a senate junket to Dubai be “secret” from Canadian taxpayers?

Bryden’s article thankfully includes praise from Conservative Senator Terry Stratton:

Senator Terry Stratton, the Tory whip in the upper house, rejected the report’s conclusions. He cast Kroeker as a conscientious staffer who blew the whistle on misuse of taxpayer’s money.

“(The report) makes it very difficult for people to expose the unauthorized expenditure of public money,” Stratton said in a written statement issued late Thursday.

“We should be proud of the stand that Jeffrey Kroeker took. He is a staffer who saw wrong and tried to make it right.”

Unfortunately, the Globe and Mail omitted this praise from its editing of Bryden’s CP article.

Here is a statement, released from Sen. LeBreton’s office just a few hours ago:

Today the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration tabled a report with the Senate in which it called into question activities of former Senate staffer, Jeffrey Kroeker.

The report is the result of an investigation undertaken by the Committee following media reports in October 2006 regarding the alleged misuse of public money on a trip to Dubai by the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, led by Liberal Senator Colin Kenny.

Senator Stratton today rejected the report: “I am extremely disappointed that this Senate Committee has issued this report. I disagree entirely with its conclusion. It makes it very difficult for people to expose the unauthorised expenditure of public money and is contrary to all of the principles in a post-Gomery world.”

In 2006, a group of senators were to take a trip to Kandahar, Afghanistan to visit Canadian troops. This trip was cancelled due to operations before the committee left, but some of the senators decided to proceed to Dubai, in any event, where they stayed, at taxpayers expense for 10 days.

Shortly following the trip, Jeffrey Kroeker discovered that the expenses for the trip to Dubai were not properly authorised and, further, that Senator Kenny, the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence was aware he would be unable to visit the base in Kandahar before he left Ottawa.

When Jeffrey Kroeker became aware of these facts, he blew the whistle, and reported the misuse of public funds to the media.

Today’s report of the Standing Committee is retaliation by a group of Liberal senators against a hard working Senate staffer, who exposed misuse of public funds. Jeffrey Kroeker did what anyone else would do when he saw public money being misused.

“We should be proud of the stand that Jeffrey Kroeker took. He is a staffer who saw wrong and tried to make it right. I am disappointed that this action has been taken,” stated Senator Stratton.

Canada’s New Government has worked hard over the last year to toughen laws that protect whistleblowers. This is exactly the type of staffer that such laws were designed to protect.

“I am very disappointed in this action by the Committee. We need more staffers like Jeffrey Kroeker and we need to support them, not punish them for doing what any honest person would do,” concluded Senator Stratton.

Senator Marjory LeBreton Interview

I was delighted to chat with Senator Marjory LeBreton the other day. I’ve heard from many people that Senator LeBreton is perhaps the nicest and most gracious person that one could ever meet in Ottawa and I’m happy to report that from our first meeting, that she is indeed deserving of those kind words.

Although it’s a great place to start, the senator cannot be summed in full by her kindness; LeBreton has an extensive list of achievements that sets the bar high for anyone in Ottawa’s political class. Lebreton is the leader of the government in the Senate of Canada and was recently appointed by Prime Minister Harper to take on the role of Secretary of State for Seniors. A close friend and confidante of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Senator Lebreton has also taken on the task of being a close and trusted adviser of Prime Minister Harper.

After the interview, she joked that what really clinched her full support of Stephen Harper was when she found out that he was a cat person.

“And you can blog that!”

Appointments this week: Senate and GG

Paul Martin has appointed five new senators to the Upper Chamber this week. Three Liberals and two Conservative received their golden tickets and will sit in the Big Red Room when the Senate sits resumes later this year.

The new Senators are:
Larry Campbell, Vancouver mayor (Liberal)
Hugh Segal, former PC leadership candidate, Policy CEO and Queen’s prof (Conservative)
Andée Champagne, PC cabinet minister (Conservative)
Dennis Dawson, non-remarkable MP (Liberal)
Rod Zimmer, businessman and Liberal fundraiser (Liberal)

This group is pretty much as expected (disappointing and satisfying at the same time). It’s good to see Mr. Segal in the Senate.

I’m glad to see that Martin is appointing Conservative senators (Chrétien appointed about 50 senators, (almost) all Liberal (save 3 ind)). The Conservative senators that he just appointed are good choices. Yet, aside from Campbell’s celebrity (he’s an annoying character, in my opinion), the Liberal picks fall short of remarkable.

I’d also like to point out that there haven’t been any senators from the old reform/alliance tradition. This is disappointing. The senate could go far to reduce western alienation and perhaps the only solution in the end is to elect it as a provincial check on federal power.

Next up is Martin’s choice of a Governor General. His decision is to be announced tomorrow. I’m hopeful that perhaps we’ll see some balance here as well. It’s likely that Martin will appoint a francophone to follow the general pattern, but it’s also likely because the Liberals desperately need to curry favour in Québec.

However, I think that either Preston Manning or Deb Grey would make a great GG.

Senate Reform

senate.jpgI’d just like to let everyone in on another reason why I am a conservative. I am a strong believer in senate reform. This upper house of Canadian government has power over the lower House of Commons to reject and modify its legislation. This might seem like a reasonable additional level of scrutiny for the laws of the land yet it is wholly unreasonable because this upper house is entirely unelected. Furthermore, a lot of legislation isn’t rejected; the senate is most often merely a big rubber stamp. It is the prime minister’s duty to appoint senators and thus senators are effectively the puppets of the prime minister and his predecessors. Worse, we’ve had one party in power for about 75 of the last 100 years: the Liberal party. So, the Liberal prime minister gets to appoint his Liberal friends to keep the elected house of Commons/Commoners in check. Thus the big red rubber stamp (a stamp without credibility) approves the laws determined by elected official of the House of Commons.

Over the years, there have also been scandals regarding the attendance of these non-elected legislative members of senate. However, the government of Canada reassures us that senators get penalized $250 per absent day that the senate was sitting. In the year 2000, the senators sat for 61 days. So, if a senator had decided to take the year off his pay would have been docked $15,250. This figure may be large to some but consider that senators get paid $114,200. This leaves our senator with a cool $98,950 (assuming he didn’t attend a single sitting).

munson.jpgThe latest senator was appointed by Jean Chrétien on the day before he handed over control to Paul Martin. The new senator is Jim Munson, a former CTV reporter who worked for Jean Chrétien for a mere 16 months before getting the $114,200/year job guarenteen for the next 18 years. Roger Smith should be so lucky.

We need senate reform. We should elect our senators so that they are accountable to the people. Election would lend credibility to these parliamentarians and it would allow a true check on government. Each province should elect an equal number of senators. In our confederacy, each region is equally important. Western alienation has been a key complaint against the Liberal government and thus equal representation of each province would do wonders to eliminate this neglect of the West. Currently, Paul Martin gets input from the provinces in a non-binding annual meeting of premiers… at football games, no less. Here the premiers can complain to Paul Martin and he has the choice of listening or ignoring these leaders. Forget this meeting of Canada’s premiers over beer, wings and football. Send elected senators to Ottawa to give each province equal influence. Finally, the senate should be effective. The senate will attain this effectiveness if it is not merely the PM’s rubber stamp on legislation.