Senator-elect to serve in the Senate!

I was in question period yesterday to see a bit of Canadian history unfold.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson (Crowfoot, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, as part of our campaign promise for democratic reform, our Conservative government put forward Bill C-43, which establishes the national process for consulting Canadians on their preferences for Senate appointment through election. We have recently learned that Senator Dan Hays, who holds the seat from Alberta, will be retiring from the Senate after it rises for the summer.

Could our Prime Minister advise the House, Canadians and Albertans on how he will be filling this vacancy?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): First, Mr. Speaker, let me take the opportunity to congratulate Senator Hays on his long public service, including his role as leader of the opposition and Speaker of the Senate.

We do have Bill C-43 tabled. On the other hand, the province of Alberta did some time ago hold a popular consultation for the filling of a Senate vacancy. When that seat comes due, I will recommend to the Governor General the appointment of Mr. Bert Brown.

This is fantastic news for western populists who have been championing senate reform for the past 20 years.

The resignation of Hays has allowed Harper to accelerate the appointment of an elected senator and to realize an old Reform Party ideal.

Once the process of appointing senators becomes normalized, it will be difficult for Prime Ministers to make unelected appointments.

Senate reform may become a key aspect of this Prime Minister’s legacy, despite the fact that it began with the less than ideal appointment of Michael Fortier.

UPDATE: Yukon urged to follow suit

On this day in history…

…a woman named Deb Grey became the first elected Reform party MP. On March 13th, 1989 Grey was elected by the constituents of the federal riding of Beaver River in Northern Alberta.

Affectionately called the “Iron Snowbird” by constituents and supporters Grey won the 1989 by-election just months after finishing fourth place in the previous General Election. The riding was vacated due to the death of John Dahmer, a PC MP in the Mulroney government.

At the time, she was described as a better communicator than most politicians by Preston Manning, the leader of the new Reform Party which had only formed 16 months earlier. Her common sense communication style likely rooted from her profession as a school teacher, her job before being sent to Ottawa to represent Beaver River.

Her campaign reflected much of the populism for which the party became famous, including taking a letter from the residents of Beaver River to the Central Bank over inflation caused by overspending in Central Canada. Particularly memorable for people that worked on her campaign was the “cavalcade of cars” dressed up in Reform colours which assembled from all points in the riding, from neighbouring regions and indeed from all corners of Alberta to distribute literature throughout the riding to promote their candidate. Grey also took advantage of growing Western anger with Mulroney’s government and famously warned Mulroney “beware the Ides of March, because Beaver River has a surprise for you.” She was also able to gain support by attending the PC nomination battle and introducing herself between the ballots of that contentious meeting. Logically, some supporters of losing candidates saw a better choice in Grey.

After carrying the Reform banner to Ottawa, Grey served as deputy leader, interim Opposition leader (only female leader of the opposition in history). She also had the pleasure of having her coffee made and office plants watered by the current Prime Minister; Stephen Harper was her first legislative assistant.

That time when I met Elizabeth May

This week I also met Elizabeth May. The leader of the Green Party was in high spirits that day despite Garth Turner’s betrayal of everyone (conservatives, constituents, May and the Greens) just a few hours earlier. Turner campaigned for May in London North Centre, teased us all by telling us that he was considering “going Green”. He even turned his back on his constituents, which during a townhall in Halton, about 1 in 4 told Garth to go Green while not one told him to go Liberal.

Anyway, this post is about Elizabeth May. Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much time to chat.


Click to enlarge

It would be interesting to see May in a debate with party leaders during an election. However, should a party have at least one elected (or sitting) MP in order to have such a platform? What is your opinion?

If I remember correctly, Reform was allowed to debate only after Deb Grey won a by-election. If Turner had gone Green, he would have been a sitting, yet unelected Green MP. What should the threshold be? Also, consider that the laws governing the identity of a “party” have changed since 1989 when Grey became the first Reform MP.

You’ll find Liberals advocating that May should be allowed to debate because the Green vote is thought to cut into NDP support. NDPers thus are less likely to support the idea. Since Conservatives are depending on the NDP to split the left, they’re more likely to support the NDP position.

What may be certain though, is that we ought to have clear guidelines for Green Party inclusion in a televised debate.

BUT… this brings us to another topic to consider. The national networks are largely in charge of debate format and the participants invited and their decisions are largely subjective and outside of parliamentary review and jurisdiction. If a debate were held in a different forum (and medium — say… online) who would accept an invitation to debate and on what terms? If Harper, Dion, Duceppe and May accepted an invitation, would Layton turn down the opportunity to debate?

Is there such thing as an “official” debate?