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Recently appointed Conservative Senator Salma Ataullahjan, right, talks with her campaign manger while opening her new campaign office in Missisauga in 2008. (J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail)
Recently appointed Conservative Senator Salma Ataullahjan, right, talks with her campaign manger while opening her new campaign office in Missisauga in 2008. (J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail)

Harper fills last Senate vacancy Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has filled the lone vacancy in the Senate by appointing Salma Ataullahjan, a former Conservative candidate who is an advocate for her South Asian community.

Ms. Ataullahjan lost to Liberal MP Navdeep Bains in the southern Ontario riding of Mississauga-Brampton South in the 2008 federal election.

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The appointment means the Conservatives have the same number of voting members in the Red Chamber as Liberals and independents combined.

It also kills any possibility, however slim, that a Liberal attempt to remove controversial sections from an omnibus budget bill would be successful when the bill goes to a final vote on Tuesday of next week.

"I am pleased to announce the appointment of Salma Ataullahjan to the Senate of Canada," Mr. Harper said in a release. "Ms. Ataullahjan brings a remarkable dedication and energy to her new role as a Senator for the Province of Ontario."

Ms. Ataullahjan has pledged to support the Conservative government's efforts to reform the Senate, including legislation to limit Senate tenure and to allow provinces to elect their Senators.

"In addition to coming from a family of political activists on the Indian subcontinent, Ms. Ataullahjan's political and social activism here in Canada has earned her a reputation of one who both stands against violence and stands for peaceful dialogue and consensus building," Mr. Harper said.

At a Senate finance committee meeting Thursday, Liberal senators and one Progressive Conservative excised clauses from the bill that they said have nothing to do with the budget - sections that would open overseas mail delivery to privatization, alter environmental assessment, and facilitate the selloff of the power division of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

If the new appointment had not been made, there was a chance that all able-bodied Liberal Senators, combined with the two Progressive Conservatives and the two independents, could have passed the bill in its amended form.

That would have sent it back to the House of Commons where Mr. Harper would have had to determine whether splitting the bill into a number of different parts was a confidence matter worthy of taking the country into an election.

A tied vote in the Senate would defeat the amendments and restore the bill to its original unabridged form.

Before the appointment of Ms. Ataullahjan, NDP Leader Jack Layton was urging Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to demand that all Liberal senators turn to the final vote.

The NDP had tried to break apart the bill while it was still before the House of Commons but Mr. Ignatieff made sure that enough of his members were absent that Bill C-9 would pass. Its defeat in the House could have prompted an election that no party wanted.

The appointment of Ms. Ataullahjan, who immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 1979, also strengthens the ties between the Conservatives and the South Asian community that the Conservatives have been actively courting for several years.

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