Conservatives are on pace to control a majority in the Senate by 2010 as Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares to fill all Senate vacancies before a possible defeat at the hands of an opposition coalition.
Liberals and New Democrats said the Prime Minister's announcement amounts to a "shocking" reversal for the leader of a party that has vowed not to appoint unelected Senators.
But Mr. Harper's office maintains the soon-to-be-appointed Tories are the party's best hope of delivering on Senate reform given the current political context.
"We remain committed to Senate reform, which means elections for senators," a government official said. "[But] as long as the Senate exists in its present form, Senate vacancies should be filled by a government that Canadians elected, not a government that Canadians rejected."
The Liberal-NDP coalition, supported by the Bloc Québécois, have not backed down from talk of ousting the Conservative government when Parliament resumes in early 2009.
The Tories want to avoid the possibility that the 105-member Senate gets filled with members opposed to Senate reform -- or with separatist leanings.
"The Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition has indicated it plans to fill the Senate with coalition members and this includes the prospect of appointing senators who do not believe in Canadian unity," the official said.
All 18 vacancies will be filled by individuals willing to sit as Conservatives and willing to support legislation requiring Senate elections and term limits. However, the 18 Tories will not be required to commit to a specific term. They will be allowed to sit under the current rules, which allow Senators to keep their jobs until the age of 75.
Conservative Senator Bert Brown, who was elected in an Alberta referendum and appointed by Mr. Harper last year, says he's disappointed he was personally not able to convince other provinces to follow Alberta's lead by electing Senate nominees.
The Senate of Canada, the upper house of the Canadian legislature, is an unelected body. This has caused no small amount of concern among some, particularly in the western Canada in general and Alberta in specific, where there is a desire for a Triple-E Senate where senators would be "elected (instead of being selected by the Prime Minister), [with] equal representation of all provinces in the Senate regardless of population, and effective powers for the Senate to counter the House of Commons." This has been an unpopular project. The elections might be good, but the idea of giving Prince Edward Island (population 139 thousand) as many senators as Ontario (population 12.9 million) is ludicrous to most, and people seem happy enough with the existing balance of legislative powers in Canada
Harper's appointments aren't a surprise. Back in October Harper--a proponent of the Triple-E Senate--went on to threaten to abolish the Senate if the Liberal majority there cotninued to obstruct his legislative projects, and promised to appoint senators if need be. The need's real to him now, it turns out.