Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to announce 18 appointments to the Senate today. A lot of the Ottawa-based media is either on break or anticipating to knock off for a few days for the Christmas holiday. However, for those that are compelled to pay attention, a list of the appointments is expected around noon today before the Prime Minister flies off to Calgary for an event this afternoon. Further, the Prime Minister’s press office was telling a few reporters last week that they expect the appointments to be made today.
This represents an unfortunate departure from the principle of an elected senate to make way for the growing urgency and practical necessity of addressing the uncertain balance of power within parliament – one that is within the Prime Minister’s constitutional right to address (or at least his right to make suggested picks to the Governor General). Many Ottawa observers will note that the Prime Minister has held off on this decision until the 11th hour, until necessary pragmatism eclipsed principle on the issue of the unelected senate. While the senate remains in its current form, the Prime Minister is making a defensive move to prevent an unelected coalition government from appointing 18 senators whenever they have the opportunity to flip the government by their procedural whim.
A raft of partisan appointments is expected today. A top-of-mind criteria for the PM on senate appointments will be loyal. The PM wants senators that will sit as partisans of a Conservative caucus and partisans that will work to execute the PM’s plan for senate reform. In fact, every senator appointed today should commit to the following principles (and publicly):
1. The appointed senator should be prepared to run or resign their seat at the earliest opportunity when an election for senate is held in their home provice.
2. The senator should use the maximum resources available of their office to fight for senate reform and should act as ambassadors of senate reform in their home province.
Some believe that the Prime Minister will make a bi-partisan pick for the Senate, or make a move to reach across the aisle to appoint someone who is non-traditionally aligned like David Suzuki. I don’t believe that this will happen. Though Paul Martin appointed Conservative senator Hugh Segal, the majority balance of the senate was not in question at the time or in the near future. Further, because of the urgency of these appointments, some breathing room is expected for the Prime Minister and gallery barbs will be focused on the size and timing of this set of senate appointments.
On the makeup of the PM’s picks, a few insiders that I have spoken to in a some provinces getting new senators today have said that the Prime Minister’s office has called and asked for suggestions for women and aboriginal senators.
One province where the PMO has not sought outside advice has been Ontario. PMO appointments zipped up Ontario early and did not seek additional advice or vetting on picks for that province. Everyone expects Irving Gerstein to get one of the two senate nods in Ontario.
My pick for Saskatchewan is Elwin Hermanson, the founder of the Saskatchewan Party. However, informed speculation suggests that Barry Firby could be on the PM’s short list. Firby is the Conservative Party’s regional organizer in that province.
New names that I’m hearing for Quebec include Patrick Brazeau and Myriam Taschereau. Brazeau is the chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and Taschereau was a candidate for the Conservatives in Quebec City during the last election. Brazeau would represent a non-partisan but ideologically-aligned pick for Prime Minister Harper.
In PEI, I’m hearing speculation that the Prime Minister may lean towards Patricia Mella, the former leader of the PC Party in that province.
If the PM does appoint new senators today, I’ll have the list up and we’ll see if we can digest his picks together.