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Shuffle redux: Friendly fire on Senate, a compelling rookie and PMO 'product'

Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable

Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

BOLDEST MOVE Stephen Harper's appointment of three defeated candidates to the Senate - one a two-time loser - just minutes after he named his new cabinet is provoking much negative commentary.

And it's not just coming from opposition ranks:Conservatives are not amused. One of Mr. Harper's MPs suggested that the Prime Minister is no longer trying to kill the Liberal Party but has instead decided to become the Liberal Party. The MP said this was an abuse of his trust and support.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, normally a Harper ally, is not impressed either. "I think it takes away momentum for change at the provincial level and it will probably increase calls that we hear from time to time just saying, 'Do we really need this institution?'" Mr. Wall told reporters at the Legislature.

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Gerry Nicholls, the former National Citizens Coalition executive and a conservative pundit, decried the move. "Voters have had a chance to send these people to Parliament and they rejected them," Mr. Nicholls said. "I think it's also a real slap in the face to Reform tradition and to those Reformers out there who wanted a reformed Senate, an elected Senate, an accountable government, who wanted more democracy in Ottawa."

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office, announcing the appointments, landed in reporters' electronic mailboxes Wednesday just after Mr. Harper had left the podium, and could no longer answer questions.

It said Josée Verner, the former cabinet minister who lost her Quebec City seat, Fabian Manning, the second time loser in the Newfoundland and Labrador riding of Avalon, and Larry Smith, who lost his bid to unseat a Liberal in the Montreal area, were nevertheless returning to Ottawa - their defeats rewarded with perk-laden positions in the Senate.

More than that, Mr. Manning and Mr. Smith had already been appointed Senators, resigning their seats to run for elected office. In fact, Mr. Manning had told The Globe just before the election that he preferred elected politics to the appointed kind. He said he had "great respect for the Senate, much more than I had before I arrived" but added that "the people who make decisions are elected members in the long run."

Wednesday's move ranks up there as one of Mr. Harper's most controversial, competing with shutting down Parliament, attempting to change the lyrics of the national anthem and his efforts - while in minority government - to take away the per-vote political subsidy from the opposition parties.

MOST COMPELLING STORY Peter Penashue, the rookie MP from Newfoundland and Labrador, was vaulted to Intergovernmental Affairs Ministers on Wednesday. He is one of the few newcomers to be given this kind of cabinet responsibility by the Prime Minister.

But according to the reports from his province Thursday morning, he almost missed the swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall. Stuck in the hotel elevator for 45 minutes, he had been trying to meet a friend to help him tie his tie. Mr. Penashue does not usually wear a tie and needed some assistance. In the end it all worked out.

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Mr. Penashue is a moving and inspirational story. An Innu leader from a small community in Labrador, he is a victim of sexual abuse and suffered from an addiction to alcohol. After hitting bottom, he turned his life around. In 1990, he became the president of the Innu Nation and in 2002 was recognized by The Globe and Mail as one of Canada's Top 40 under 40. His victory on May 2 was a surprise - he is the only Conservative MP in the province.

PMO-SPEAK Dimitri Soudas, the Prime Minister's director of communications, sounded like a Toronto ad executive Wednesday, referring to the news release detailing the new cabinet as "the product."

It's always interesting to hear the jargon and bureaucratese that comes from the centre. The best, however, came during Brian Mulroney years when senior adviser Fred Doucet tried to explain away the prime ministerial family's nanny, arguing she was not a nanny but rather "interfaced with the children in a habitual way."

Mr. Mulroney had said Canadians would never pay for his childrens' nanny.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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