Sunday, April 11, 2010

Canada's Inconsistent Prime Minister

Recent, for the fourth time in as many years, the Harper government introduced legislation that would mandate eight year terms for Senators. The legislation would limit senators to one, non-renewable eight year term and would apply to all Senators that have been appointed since October 2008. Previous attempts by the Harper government to reform the Senate were derailed by Liberal protests and by their own prorogation of Parliament.

Having lived in the Calgary West riding for 20 years, I remember well Stephen Harper's arrival on the political scene. The riding was represented by Jim Hawkes (Progressive Conservative) from 1979 to 1993. Hawkes was defeated by Stephen Harper who was running for the Reform Party in the 1993 election along with many of his PC running mates across Canada. Ironically, in the mid 1980's, Harper was Hawkes' chief aide and ran against him in the 1988 election as a candidate for the newly formed Reform Party.

The Reform Party of Canada was founded at a convention held in Vancouver, British Columbia in May 1987. At that convention Preston Manning, one of three founding members, was chosen as leader of the party. Shortly after formation of the Reform Party, Preston Manning appointed Stephen Harper as his chief policy officer. One of the Party's founding principles was the endorsement of a Triple-E Senate. The Reform mantra of an equal, elected and effective Senate was in sharp contrast to the system where Members of the Senate have historically been appointed by the Governor General under direction from the Prime Minister. It was also an attempt to equalize the number of Senators for each province in contrast to the system where, under the Canadian Constitution, representation is not equal and not in proportion to population.

When Harper left the Reform Party over differences with the vision of Preston Manning, he joined the National Citizen's Coalition, a right-leaning lobby group, later becoming its President. During that time, he wrote an open letter known as the "Alberta Firewall Letter" to Premier Ralph Klein of Alberta strongly advocating Senate elections.

In this letter, Harper et al make the following statement:

"Use section 88 of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Quebec Secession Reference to force Senate reform back onto the national agenda. Our reading of that decision is that the federal government and other provinces must seriously consider a proposal for constitutional reform endorsed by “a clear majority on a clear question” in a provincial referendum. You acted decisively once before to hold a senatorial election. Now is the time to drive the issue further."

The "Alberta Firewall Letter" in combination with his advocation of the Triple-E Senate as chief policy officer of the Reform Party in the late 1980's and early 1990's show that before Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, he was a strong advocate for complete Senate reform. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that viewpoint.

What is wrong are his actions since he became Prime Minister. He has done nothing to reform the Senate, in fact, he has used the Senate as a political tool to further his parliamentary agenda. Since first taking office in 2006, he has appointed 33 new Senators. That's a lot of appointments for a man who used to tout the Triple E line!

The Harper government's Senate appointments are nothing more than hypocrisy. In the particular case of Mike Duffy, his appointment as Senator representing Prince Edward Island was a farce. Mr. Duffy, although he was born on Prince Edward Island, had been resident of Ontario for nearly 40 years making him technically ineligible to be a Senator for PEI. His appointment went ahead without regard to the rules and, as expected, he has proven himself to be a hack for the Conservative Party. As an aside, in his first 3 months of sitting as a Senator, Mr. Duffy ran up expenses of $100,848 in travel and office expenses making him one of the top-ranked Senate spenders.

Harper claims that all of his appointees have agreed to 8 year appointments and that they will back his Senate reform agenda. This is the same man who promised Canadians that he was not going to tax Income Trusts during the election campaign of early 2006 and then changed his mind a few months later on October 31, 2006.

You tell me if we should trust a man who can't seem to take a consistent viewpoint on any given issue on any given occasion. This attempt at revamping the Senate is nothing but window dressing and does nothing to repair what has become a laughably partisan exercise.

...and just in case you were wondering, Senate jobs have a base salary of $130,000 a year. Nice "work" if you can get it!


Senator Mike Duffy's Expenses

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