Conservative Senator Don Plett, who is known for not shying away from a political fight, was elected the new Opposition Leader in the Senate in an evening vote Tuesday.
Mr. Plett, who previously served officially as party whip, said his priority is to ensure the Senate Opposition stays relevant as he took a shot at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accusing him of trying to “fracture the Senate" with his changes, such as appointing Independent senators.
“To keep the Opposition relevant in this Parliament, to keep the government’s feet to the fire, to make sure that the six million people who voted for the Conservative Party in the last election are represented from coast to coast to coast, those I would say are among my top priorities,” said Mr. Plett, adding that working with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and his party are also on that list.
Conservative senators held an election for the role of Opposition leader during their first meeting since the federal election campaign, which had triggered the dissolution of key leadership positions on the Conservative side of the Senate.
Senators had until last Wednesday to indicate whether they wanted to run for several positions and Mr. Plett and Senator David Wells put their names forward for the top position.
Larry Smith, former Opposition leader in the Senate, said last week that he would not seek re-election.
Mr. Plett acknowledged after the vote that he may not have been successful if it hadn’t been for Mr. Smith, who allowed him to take on many leadership roles while he was serving as whip.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail in June, Mr. Plett said he met regularly on his own with the Government Representative in the Senate, Peter Harder, and helped decide which senators sit on committees – roles that would typically be the responsibility of the Opposition leader in the Senate.
“I want to thank Senator Smith for giving me the opportunity to do what I did in the last Parliament. He could have chosen not to give me that opportunity, and who knows, today, things may have been different as a result of that. But he put his confidence in me, he saw that there was certain gifts and talents that I brought to the table and he allowed me to exercise those and indeed I tried my best and I think some of that paid off today,” he said.
The Senate leadership election comes on the eve of the first Conservative national caucus meeting since an election that many in the party felt they should have won.
When asked whether he feels Mr. Scheer has the full support of the Conservative caucus, Mr. Plett wouldn’t answer directly, only saying that his focus on Tuesday was about electing a leader in the Senate, and that Mr. Scheer has his “personal support.”
Mr. Plett said that his advice for Mr. Scheer ahead of Wednesday’s meeting would be to “stay true to himself," and that “now isn’t a time to do anything but to stay true to your beliefs and move forward."
While Mr. Plett would not answer questions about what he thought went wrong for the Conservative campaign, he told reporters that the Tories’ election results in some regions were “because of some of the folks in your industry.”
Mr. Plett said the media were not the Conservatives’ “best friend” in the election and that Conservatives have never been shy about saying so.
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