Tom Mulcair: “Mr. Harper promised solemnly to Canadians that he would never name an appointed senator. He has gone on to appoint … them.”
By: Tyler Sommers on
Tom Mulcair, NDP Leader and candidate for Outremont, in the leaders debate on August 6, 2015
Stephen Harper promised to only appoint people to the Senate who were first elected. He broke the promise by repeatedly appointing unelected senators.FactsCan Score: True
During the first leaders debate of the 2015 election, both Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau charged that Prime Minister Stephen Harper broke his promise to only appoint elected senators to Canada’s upper chamber.
“Mr. Harper promised solemnly to Canadians that he would never name an appointed senator. He has gone on to appoint … them,” Mulcair said.
Based on the context of the remark, we assume Mulcair’s “appointed” means “unelected” (otherwise the claim could be read as ‘never name a named senator’).
Did Harper appoint unelected senators? And does that break an earlier promise not to appoint anyone who was not first elected to the Senate?
Harper Senate appointments
The first question is simple to answer: Yes.
Only one example is needed. Harper appointed Josée Verner on June 14, 2011.
While in office, Harper made 59 appointments to the Senate, including two re-appointments for a total of 57 people. The majority were unelected.
Today’s Senate is an unelected body. All 105 seats are filled by appointment, although a handful of senators were first selected by voters in a provincial Senate nominee election.
But Verner got in without an election (one of many such cases), so we’re good to move on to part two.
Promise not to appoint unelected senators
One version of the promise can be found on page 13 of the 2004 Conservative Party election platform: “A Conservative government led by Stephen Harper will appoint only elected Senators to the Senate. A Conservative government will also propose further reforms to make the Senate an independent and democratic body for all regions.”
A number of blogs and partisan sites cite another version, which allegedly appeared on Harper’s leadership website on January 15, 2004: “Stephen Harper will cease patronage appointments to the Senate. Only candidates elected by the people will be named to the Upper House.” But the website no longer exists.
The vision for an elected Senate didn’t necessarily involve national elections. It’s possible that provincial elections could have fulfilled the promise. The party’s 2004 platform is vague, advertising that “creating an elected parliamentary chamber independent of the Prime Minister is a critical step … and can be done without any constitutional amendments.”
Canadians never saw the plan enacted. The 2004 election brought Paul Martin’s Liberals to power, defeating Harper’s Conservatives. In their 2006 election platform, the Conservatives changed the wording on Senate reform, cutting the immediate promise to stick to elected senators. Instead, they commit to gradual action, to “begin reform of the Senate by creating a national process for choosing elected Senators.”
But the 2004 promise followed Harper to office.
The Globe and Mail wrote in 2006, “Harper jettisoned, or at least delayed, his promise to only elect senators.”
In 2008, the New York Times wrote, “Harper appointed 18 Conservatives to Canada’s unelected Senate on Monday, a move that broke his longstanding promise not to name additional members to the upper chamber of Parliament until it is transformed into an elected body.”
It’s true that while running for office in 2004, Harper promised to only appoint elected senators. Once there two years later, he continued the tradition of naming unelected members.