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Stephen Harper is the gift that keeps on giving

What are western Canadians to think of Stephen Harper’s orgy of appointments to the Senate? And what are we to make of the undemocratic use of the Senate to pave the way to election to the House of Commons?

In his almost five years in office, Mr. Harper has appointed 38 people to the Senate that he once so loathed. That works out to almost an appointment a month to that august unelected chamber of “sober second thought.”

When Mr. Harper was a Reform MP and Leader of the Opposition, he railed in righteous indignation against the Senate. Yet, as prime minister, Mr. Harper has made it his personal dumping ground for cronies and party hacks. His hypocrisy is stunning and is, by now, laughable to a majority of sensible Canadians. It would be funny if it were not for the fact that it is we taxpayers that continue to foot the bill for this cynical abuse of power.  

To call Stephen Harper a flip-flopper is an insult and affront to civilization’s great flip-floppers. He plays the Canadian people like Yo-Yo Ma plays his Stradivarius.

This week, Stephen Harper appointed two more senators. Newly minted Conservative Senator Larry Smith is particularly noteworthy because he also announced with great fanfare and surrounded by members of Harper’s cabinet that he is running for a seat in the House of Commons. This takes Harper’s flip-flopping to an entirely new and cunning level.

When he appointed Michael Fortier – Harper’s campaign manager - to the senate after he was defeated in the general election of 2006, he was simultaneously appointed to cabinet. That too is something Harper said he wouldn’t do. But never mind. When Mr. Fortier decided to try his hand again in the general election of 2008, he resigned his senate seat to do so. When he lost a second time, he returned to the private sector.

In the case of Mr. Smith, he was appointed to the Senate to specifically have a taxpayer paid platform from which to run for a seat in the House of Commons. Now, if this doesn’t smack of using the taxpayer – not to mention an institution of the Parliament of Canada - for a clearly partisan end I really don’t know what is. 

In an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics yesterday, Mr. Smith did his best to justify the appointment to the Senate and the $135,000 a year salary, benefits, plus staff, office and expenses that goes with it. Smith was asked if it was cynical to start off as a senator and use the profile to then run as an MP. "No, I don't. You have to understand that I've worked very hard over my career to do what I'm doing now," Smith said. The outgoing CEO of the Montreal Alouettes said he was not trying to sound arrogant but that he was making a major concession in his lifestyle to become a senator.

"In simple terms, the money I was earning in my last profession to where I would be in this profession is what I would call a dramatic, catastrophic pay cut," he said.

Well, many of us who run for public office – yours truly included – have done and are doing the same thing. Just ask Ken Dryden, Martha Hall Findley, Bob Rae, Scott Brison - and many more - if they have taken a pay cut. Ask John McCallum, who left his position as senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the Royal Bank of Canada, if he took a pay cut to run for a seat in the House of Commons. He and many others have made massive financial and personal sacrifices to run because for us public service is not a burden. It is a privilege. You don’t hear any of us complaining about that. And none of us are doing it on the backs of the taxpayer.

Before moving to Vancouver with my family ten years ago, we lived in Beaconsfield, Quebec. That’s the constituency where Mr. Smith, Canada’s newest Senator, is now a Conservative candidate for a federal election that we all expect next Spring. Notwithstanding Larry Smith’s profile as the former CEO of the Montreal Alouettes, I strongly suspect that the people of Lac St. Louis will take a very dim view of this new Conservative candidate running on their dime.

They will send Mr. Harper a powerful message of disapproval, just like they did Mr. Fortier before.  And for us in British Columbia and the rest of western Canada, this is yet another reason to reject the deliberate and purposeful deceit of the Conservative Party of Stephen Harper, the grandest flip-flopper of them all.

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