Conservative Senators are jockeying for the position of Opposition Leader in the Senate, a role some senators say is especially important with a minority Parliament.
The federal election campaign meant the end of key leadership positions on the Conservative side of the Senate. Senators had until noon Wednesday to indicate whether they were interested in running for several positions, and Senate caucus will vote for its leader by secret ballot next Tuesday.
Senator Don Plett said he and Senator David Wells are competing for the top job of Opposition Leader in the Senate. Mr. Wells’s office said that he will not comment on the leadership race until after caucus has made its decision because it is a “caucus matter.”
Senator Yonah Martin’s office confirmed she has been acclaimed as Deputy Leader. Mr. Plett said Senator Rose-May Poirier was acclaimed as caucus chair, but her office would not confirm. The position of party whip, which Mr. Plett previously held, is chosen by the Opposition Leader in the Senate.
Contacted by phone while driving to Florida, Mr. Plett said he had reached out to caucus colleagues and that he’s had “very positive support,” adding that he will be back in Ottawa for next week’s vote.
Mr. Plett raised his familiarity with the position, saying current Leader, Senator Larry Smith, had tasked him with having many negotiations with the Government Representative in the Senate and with members of the Independent Senators Group.
“So it’s a job that I have done for the last two years and a bit ... and I think my caucus colleagues recognize that and realize that and appreciate that," he said.
Mr. Smith said it was a “great honour” to serve as Opposition Leader in the Senate in a statement Wednesday evening and thanked his colleagues who elected him in April, 2017.
“With a new Parliament about to begin, it is a natural time for me to assess my role, and I have concluded, following a period of reflection, to not seek re-election as Leader,” said Mr. Smith, adding he will focus on policy and legislative matters.
Mr. Plett said it is important to have strong leadership during what he expects to be a “turbulent" Parliament with a minority government, “where we believe the tail will be wagging the dog with the NDP holding the balance of power here.”
“Either the NDP or a separatist party will be dictating what happens in the House of Commons to a large part, and we will remind them that six million people voted for the Conservatives, so I feel good,” he said.
Mr. Wells was not entirely supportive of Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party leadership bid in 2017. After initially backing Mr. Scheer, he pulled his endorsement in favour of celebrity businessman Kevin O’Leary, saying at the time that Mr. O’Leary was the only candidate who could beat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
When asked about his previous comments Wednesday, Mr. Wells’s office said that after the leadership race, Mr. Wells was “100-per-cent supportive of Mr. Scheer as leader and worked tirelessly for Leader Scheer and the Conservative team.”
“He supports him now as leader and supports the rules the Conservative Party of Canada has in place to either reaffirm or challenge that," said Claudine Courtois, director of parliamentary affairs.
Mr. Plett said he supports Mr. Scheer “unequivocally” and that he has proved himself to be “very worthy of the position.”
Conservative Senator Leo Housakos said he is supporting Mr. Plett’s leadership bid because of his experience serving as whip and negotiating at times on behalf of Mr. Smith.
“At the end of the day if there’s a role for Parliament, particularly the Upper Chamber, [it] is to be that voice for the regions of the country that aren’t necessarily represented in the other side of the House in majority or minority situations, so I think it’s extremely important.”
Mr. Housakos would not comment on the federal election campaign or whether he supports Mr. Scheer, saying that he will reserve his comments for the national caucus next week.
“I owe it to my colleagues to express myself first at the national caucus,” he said.