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Harper's senators: Conservative, diverse and obedient

The Senate chamber is seen on Parliament Hil in Ottawa Thursday, August 27, 2009.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The appointments of Pentecostal minister Don Meredith and former CFL commissioner Larry Smith to the Senate served to strengthen Stephen Harper's lock on the Red Chamber.

They also marked the 37th and 38th time that the Prime Minister named people to sit in the house he once said would be populated by democratically elected officials.

The timeline of the Conservative takeover

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Mr. Harper inherited a Senate of mostly Liberal appointees.

Soon after he was elected to office in 2006, he appointed Conservative insider Michael Fortier as a senator and named him to his first cabinet. He then waited more than a year to make his second appointment.

In the meantime, the Conservatives introduced legislation to limit senators' terms of office to eight years. The Liberal-dominated Senate deflected that bill in June of 2007 by referring it to the Supreme Court. Bert Brown, who had twice been elected as a senator-in-waiting in Alberta, was appointed to the Senate one month later.

Mr. Harper continued to press ahead with Senate reform and, for a year and a half, resisted naming people to fill the vacancies that were mounting as existing senators reached mandatory retirement age.

But, on Jan. 2 of last year, he appointed 15 senators at once, followed by three more later in the month.

There were nine more appointments in August of 2009, four in January of 2010, and five more since then, including those of Mr. Meredith and Mr. Smith.

The retirement of Liberal Jean Lapointe on Dec. 6 gave the Conservatives an outright majority over the Liberals, Independents and remaining Progressive Conservatives in the Senate. The Conservatives now have 54 members to the Liberals' 47 in the 105-seat chamber.

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Who are the Conservative senators?

The senators appointed by Mr. Harper are an eclectic mix.

They include sports figures such as skier Nancy Greene Raine, former NHL coach Jacques Demers and Mr. Smith, who recently stepped down as president of the CFL's Montreal Alouettes.

There are former journalists including Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Linda Frum.

Mr. Harper made room for Fabian Manning, a Conservative MP who lost his seat in the 2008 election.

And he appointed Conservative Party insiders, including his former press secretary, Carolyn Stewart Olson; Irving Gerstein, the chair of the Conservative Fund Canada; Doug Finley, the party's former campaign chair; and Don Plett, former president of the Conservative Party council.

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Marjory LeBreton, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, said it is important to emphasize how much effort Mr. Harper has made to diversify the Senate. He has appointed members of the Korean, aboriginal, Pakistani, Indian, and Jewish communities. Mr. Meredith, his recent appointee, was born in Jamaica.

"He is using the Senate to reach out to communities in order to have them represented in Parliament," Ms. LeBreton said. "And he has tried to, as much as possible, appoint people who have actually held office or ran for office."

But NDP Leader Jack Layton, whose party would abolish the Senate, says every appointment has been intensely political. The only difference between Mr. Harper's Senate appointments and those of the Liberals who preceded him, said Mr. Layton, "is that Harper said explicitly that he would never do this."

How effective have the Conservative senators been?

The senators appointed by Mr. Harper have been effective tools of the Conservative government.

They turn out for votes and keep to the party line - even those who had no obvious direct ties to the Conservatives before getting their Senate seat.

James Cowan, the Liberal Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, said some of the appointees have done little more than "chirp in the background" while others have been "real workhorses."

But the common thread is that they have been disciplined, Mr. Cowan said. "I can't think of a single time when they have broken ranks on anything."

Mr. Layton, who is still smarting from the defeat in the Senate of a private-member's bill that one of his MPs successfully shepherded through the House of Commons, said it is a departure from the way previous governments have treated the Red Chamber.

"The idea of explicitly being there to block the will of the majority is new," he said, "and shamelessly, they are proud if it."

Ms. LeBreton said that when the Prime Minister approaches people to sit in the Senate he asks them to support the government's agenda and also the government's Senate report agenda. "Why would we not appoint people who support the agenda of the government?' she asked. "It wouldn't make much sense."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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