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Politics Harper says he is in no hurry to appoint more senators

Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes an announcement at IBM Laboratories in Markham, Ont. on Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he's in no hurry to fill vacancies in the Senate.

Harper said he's not hearing much popular support for naming new members to the upper chamber, where 16 of the 105 seats remain empty — and the Conservatives still hold a healthy majority.

"I don't think I'm getting a lot of call from Canadians to name more senators right about now," Harper said Thursday — an apparent reference to the expense scandals and controversy that tarnished the Senate's reputation last year.

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Harper's enthusiasm for the Senate — more specifically, reforming or abolishing it — was also fettered in April when the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that Senate reform would require substantial provincial blessing, if not unanimity.

The prime minister hasn't named anyone to the Senate since March 2013.

His latest comments were prompted by concerns raised by newly appointed Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin, who said he believes the shortage of senators is affecting the chamber's productivity.

"Take New Brunswick's case. They have the right to 10 (senators). Now they have two seats vacant. If I were premier of New Brunswick I'd be demanding my two. And I think that's what the premier of New Brunswick is doing," Nolin said.

"Is it affecting the proper functioning of the institution? Yes, I think it is."

From the government's standpoint, the sole purpose of the Senate is to pass legislation — a role Harper said it's able to carry out just fine.

"We're able to continue to pass our legislation through the Senate, so from our standpoint the Senate of Canada is continuing to fulfil its functions."

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The chamber has been a political thorn for Harper in the last year, with three former Conservative senators suspended over questioned expenses. A fourth, Liberal, senator resigned under a cloud before he could be turfed.

One of the Harper appointees, Mike Duffy, is due to go to trial in April on 31 charges of fraud, a case that is widely expected to trigger a fresh political storm in an election year.

Harper's last Senate appointment was Scott Tannas, an Alberta senator who was selected as a nominee by provincial voters in April 2012.

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