Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed three experienced Conservative provincial politicians to the Senate to fill five vacancies. The two other appointees are community activists.
Veteran Ontario MPP Bob Runciman, who represents the very right of the party and was one-time interim leader of the opposition provincial Tories, is one of the new senators from Ontario. Joining him is Elizabeth Marshall, a Newfoundland MHA, and Rose-May Poirier, a former minister in the New Brunswick government.
Interestingly, Ms. Marshall was the first minister in Premier Danny Williams's government to support Stephen Harper in his bid for the leadership in 2004. Mr. Harper has asked her to run for the Conservatives several times.
The appointment of senior provincial politicians will "help with the narrative that government legislation should have a better chance in the Senate particularly if you have skilled legislators there," a veteran political strategist says.
As well, the Prime Minister is to emphasize, according to the strategist, the fact that he has not given up on Senate reform.
The other Ontario vacancy is being filled by Vim Kochhar, president and founder of the Vimal Group of Companies in Toronto. For the past 30 years, according to the background notes sent out by the Prime Minister's Office, Mr. Kochhar has worked the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons, an organization he created. He was born in India and became a Canadian citizen in 1974.
The new Senator from Quebec is Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, founding president of Murdered or Missing Persons' Families Association. He established the group after his daughter, Julie, was murdered in 2002. He has also worked in senior positions in the Quebec public service.
Filling of these five vacancies changes the landscape in the Red Chamber, finally giving the Conservatives a slight edge over the Liberals.
The news release accompanying the announcement says the new senators "have also pledged to support the Government in its efforts to make the Senate more democratic and accountable, including legislation to limit Senate terms to eight years."
"Our government will continue to push for a more democratic, accountable and effective Senate," the Prime Minister says in the release.
The PMO wasted no time in spinning its new appointments to Conservative MPs and Tory supporters, saying they show Mr. Harper remains tough on crime.
"The record shows that under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, our Conservative government is serious about getting tough on crime," says an Alerte-Info-Alert email that was sent out immediately after the announcement. "Since we were first elected to government, we have made it one of our highest priorities."
The five appointees, according to the email, are committed to "implementing our Government's tackling-crime agenda."
The Tories have charged that this agenda was thwarted by the unelected Liberals in the Senate. The talking points underline this belief, taking on the record of Michael Ignatieff's Liberals, saying they are "soft" on crime and have allowed their Senate colleagues to "obstruct, delay, and gut some of our most important measures."
"Enough is enough," the Conservative email says, adding that the government will introduce Bill C-15, which imposes mandatory jail time for serious drug offences, in the Senate. The Liberals gutted it, the email says, but the Tories will bring it back in its original form.
The Harper team now has the luxury of a very slim majority in the Red Chamber - 51 Tories to 49 for the Liberals. There are two independent senators, two Progressive Conservatives and one unaffiliated member.
(Photo: Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)