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HARPER GETS EVEN Add to ...

With yesterday's 9 appointments, this is how the 105 seats are divided:

CONSERVATIVES 46 SEATS, LIBERALS 53, INDEPENDENTS 6

If the PM is still in office next year, he can replace them with 4 Conservatives, ushering in a new balance of power.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper has laid out his plan to draw even with the Liberals in the Senate.

With his goal the magic number of 50 Conservatives in the Red Chamber, he stacked nine vacancies with partisan nominations yesterday.

Four opposition senators will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 by January. Assuming that the Tories are still in power then, appointing their replacements would give each of the two dominant parties the same number of seats. The new standings would help the Conservatives ease their agenda through Parliament. They spent their first years in power struggling with as few as 20 seats.

"If Senate vacancies are to be filled, they should be filled with individuals who support the legislative agenda of our democratically elected government, including Senate reform and real action against gang- and drug-related crime," Mr. Harper said in a statement.

At an event in Quebec City, the Prime Minister said he had to nominate unelected Conservative supporters to the Senate to ensure that his government, which won a minority last year, gets its legislation approved.

"It's unacceptable for senators [appointed]by a previous government to block the will of the people," he said.

The Liberal Party has 53 seats in the 105-seat Red Chamber, while the Conservative Party has 46. The other six seats are held by independents and Progressive Conservatives, who do not necessarily vote with or against the government. Three Liberals and one independent are due to resign in coming months.

Yesterday's surprise nomination of former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers was not enough to stop a wave of criticism over the second round of largely partisan appointments to the Upper Chamber in less than a year.

Former St-Eustache mayor Claude Carignan, a defeated Conservative candidate in the last general election, was appointed as a Senator from Quebec.

He will be joined by Conservative organizer Doug Finley and Mr. Harper's long-time communications aide, Carolyn Stewart-Olsen.

Other Conservative nominees are party president Don Plett and Judith Seidman, a Quebec representative on the Conservative Party's National Council.

The new senators also include Dennis Patterson, a former premier of the Northwest Territories, journalist Linda Frum Sokolowski, and Kelvin Ogilvie, the former president of Acadia University.

Mr. Demers, who revealed in 2005 that he was functionally illiterate when he worked as an National Hockey League coach and general manager, was a well-known face among the new crop of senators. He said he will continue working as a hockey analyst and put his mind to his new job.

"I've just been named a senator here, and I'm going to have to start following [federal politics]" he said in an interview.

The Liberals, who've long engaged in partisan stacking of the Upper Chamber, highlighted the contradiction between the nominations and Mr. Harper's past criticisms.

Calling it "Senate Harpocrisy," the Liberals pointed out that in 2004, Mr. Harper dismissed the Senate as a "dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister."

The New Democratic Party called the appointments an odious waste of money, costing $3-million a year in a time of economic crisis.

"[Mr. Finley]and the others have never been elected by anyone and will now have lawmaking power," NDP Leader Jack Layton said. "Yet citizens will never have a say in whether they should be making decisions on our behalf or living comfortably on the taxpayers' dime."

The appointments are hard to digest for a number of supporters of the Conservative Party and its predecessor parties, the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance. The government is attempting to address concerns within the grassroots by calling on the new appointees to stay for only eight years and to support Senate reform.

Deborah Grey, the first-ever Reform MP, said she wants the new senators to run when Senate elections are in place. In the meantime, she said, "You have to appoint somebody."

Kevin Gaudet, federal director of the Canadian Federation of Taxpayers, said that senators should be elected, but that in appointing people who are committed to reforming the Chamber, Mr. Harper is "choosing the lesser of two evils."

With a report from Ingrid Peritz

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Senate facts

There are 105 senators, including:

-53 Liberals

-46 Conservatives

-6 independents and Progressive Conservatives

Annual salary: $132,000

Office budget for staff: $151,000

Mandatory retirement: age 75

Pension: eligibility starts at age 55

Other perk: free travel across Canada

Normal sitting days: Monday afternoon to Thursday afternoon

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The nominees

Claude Carignan

(Quebec)

The St.-Eustache mayor and long-time ADQ supporter won two landslide municipal elections, but lost his 2008 Parliamentary bid for the Rivière-des-Milles-Îles seat to Bloc MP Luc Desnoyers by 13,305 votes.

Jacques Demers

(Quebec)

The 65-year-old former Montreal Canadiens coach was the last man to lead a Canadian team to win a Stanley Cup, leading the Habs to victory in 1993. Mr. Demers has spoken frankly about his lifelong battle with illiteracy.

Doug Finley

(Ontario)

The brains behind the federal Conservatives' 2004, 2006 and 2008 election campaigns was also the mastermind of Stephen Harper's takeover of the merged Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties in 2003.

Linda Frum Sokolowski

(Ontario)

Linda Frum was a writer for the National Post and contributing editor of Maclean's magazine. She has written Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities, and Barbara Frum: A daughter's memoir.

Don Plett

(Manitoba)

Conservative Party

president since the union with the Alliance in 2003, Mr. Plett attended his first political convention at the age of 15. He is credited as one of those behind Herculean efforts to unite the right.

Kelvin Ogilvie

(Nova Scotia)

A former president and vice-chancellor of Acadia University, the biotechnology, genetic engineering and bio-organic chemistry expert pioneered the "gene machine" - a mechanism used by researchers to manufacture DNA.

Dennis Patterson (Nunavut)

Premier of the Northwest Territories for four years and an Iqaluit MLA for 16, Mr. Patterson has also acted as both the chair of the Baffin Health Region and Minister of Municipal and Community

Affairs.

Carolyn Stewart-Olsen

(New Brunswick)

The long-time communications assistant to Prime Minister Stephen Harper got her start in Ottawa in 1993 volunteering in the communications office of Reform Party leader Preston Manning.

Judith Seidman (Quebec)

The Montrealer and Conservative Party organizer co-chaired Mr. Harper's 2003 leadership campaign and represents Quebec as a member of the Conservative Party's national executive.

Anna Mehler Paperny

Follow on Twitter: @danlebla

 

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