The bombshell came on Wednesday around noon, right after Prime Minister Stephen Harper had finished taking questions from reporters.
The media were already cranky. Earlier, they had plucked names out of a hat to determine who among them would be offered up to ask a few questions of the PM in his first post-cabinet shuffle press conference. Typically, Harper’s staff ignored the media list, and came up with one of their own.
But that wasn’t the bombshell, or even remotely surprising — in Harper’s Ottawa, that kind of stuff is standard operating procedure. No, the bombshell came after Harper and his minions had scurried out of the line of fire: “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed three defeated Conservative candidates to the Senate,” The Canadian Press reported in a news bulletin, as jaws dropped across Parliament Hill (and the country). The Sun’s top guy on the Hill, David Akin, immediately tweeted: “Harper puts Larry Smith, Fabian Manning back in Senate. Also appoints Josee Verner.”
CTV’s Robert Fife, one of the most influential voices in the Press Gallery, could barely contain his amazement that Harper had elevated three Conservative cronies — Conservative cronies explicitly rejected by the voters — to what he called “patronage heaven.” The Ottawa Citizen’s Glen MacGregor wrote that he honestly thought PMO’s press release was a prank when he first saw it.
Meanwhile, Maclean’s magazine’s Andrew Coyne, a pundit with actual conservative instincts, was outraged: “What a disgrace. Just one poke in the eye after another,” Coyne wrote. “They are laughing at you, ladies and gents. They have your money and your votes. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”
Across the country, it’s been like that for days. Harper’s Senate appointments were so breathtakingly cynical and disgraceful, so contemptuous and despicable, they actually eclipsed the news coverage of the cabinet shuffle itself. From coast to coast, ordinary Canadians — including Conservative ones — shook their heads in dismay.
My reaction was different.
Sure, the appointments were wrong on many, many levels. Sure, they were wrong because the Senate itself is an anti-democratic abomination, one that has no place in a supposedly modern state. Sure, the appointments were wrong because Harper has flipped the finger at voters in Quebec and Newfoundland who had consciously, and just three short weeks ago, rejected Smith, Manning and Verner.
Sure, the appointments were wrong because Harper — the guy who once famously said (in 2004), “the upper house remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister,” and (in 2006), “a Conservative government will not appoint to the Senate anyone who does not have a mandate from the people” — now does regularly what he promised to never do.
The pork barreling was wrong, for sure. But you know what?
You get what you pay for, folks. You get the government you vote for. Suck it up.
On May 2, Canadians may have felt they were trooping to polling stations to bring to an end the seemingly interminable cycle of elections and minority governments, and return some stability for four years. They may have thought they were rewarding Stephen Harper for doing not badly through a global recession, and for not behaving like a Reform Party troglodyte following his first win in 2006. They may have thought they were doing their democratic duty.
In reality — and from Stephen Harper’s perspective — they were giving the Conservative Party a licence to do whatever the hell it wants to.
This is, I am now convinced, Stephen Harper’s last term as prime minister. By the time it’s over, he will have been in power for a decade.
And he plans to drop a few more bombs along the way.
Just watch him.
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David Clark says:
Please explain why a politician would give the agenda of HIS press conference to the media who only want to create controversy and noise? Would you? Many people think that it is a given that what is best for the reporters is best for the public. Not! The media is interested in selling newspapers and advertising which has nothing to do with public interest at all. If the media wants to set the agenda, why don’t they get the public’s approval for that job by getting elected?
Have all PM’s of Canada appointed persons to the senate since confederation? Yes.
Does the constitution specify what credentials a senator must have? No. (they must be over 30, have $4,000 in land and $4,000 in tangible assets)
Was Mr Harper doing anything illegal in appointing 3 persons to open Senate positions? No.
Is there some law that says that Mr Harper must inform the media of his decisions based on what’s convenient for them? No.
It seems to me that Mr Harper used the rules of governance to out wit the media opposition again and I hope he is laughing at the losers rant.
Just a few additional facts:
1. The fact these 3 appointees were defeated in the election is irrelevant seeing that no senators have ever been elected. (Even Burt Brown was appointed)
2. Why would any PM put a person in the senate from a different political persuasion so that they could help defeat his legislation until they are 75? Mr Chretien never made the mistake of appointing a Conservative did he?
3. Why would anyone that wasn’t political want to be in the senate and why would not caring about politics make a senator better? It wouldn’t, hence the fact that most senators are partisans whether put there by Conservatives or Liberals. A bit rich to condemn Mr Harper for what Mr Chretien did before him, no?
Your last comment about “just watch him” sounds very similar to Mr Trudeau who said “Just watch me” when asked about invoking the War Measures Act. Who flipped Canadians the finger and said “fuddle duddle”? You wouldn’t have batted an eye if Mr Chretien had done the same as Mr Harper and you know it.
I like your ideas but I deplore your name calling. I have always found that people that have to resort to name calling do so because they don’t have good arguments to fight with. It also seems a bit lowbrow for someone who purports to be intelligent.