Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed 18 new senators on Monday, bolstering his party’s standing in parliament a month before a possible federal election with the single largest one-day Senate appointment in the country’s history.
The move opens Harper up to charges of hypocrisy since he had promised that he would not fill the seats after the Conservatives won only a strengthened minority in an Oct. 14 election.
“Mr. Harper has said repeatedly that he would never appoint senators, including during the last election,” Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said. “Canadians cannot understand why he keeps breaking his word.”
Harper has long held that senators should be elected, not appointed as they are now, and the timing appears to be an attempt to fill parliament with Conservatives before a possible election.
It comes just three weeks after Harper avoided political defeat by suspending parliament in the face of a coalition that threatened to topple his minority government over his handling of the economy. The opposition has vowed to try to oust Harper again in a confidence vote when parliament resumes.
Harper will introduce a new budget in parliament on Jan. 27, and if the opposition votes against it, Canada could face its fourth election in just over four years. If the coalition or Liberals win, either party would then be able to pack the 105-seat Senate with their own candidates.
The Senate has been dominated by the opposition Liberals, whom the Conservatives contend have been dragging their feet on important legislation.
Liberal-affiliated senators occupied 58 of the seats, while 20 were held by Conservatives.
Shortly after taking power in 2006, Harper introduced a Senate election bill and another limiting senators to eight-year terms. His reforms ran into a brick wall in the parliament and in a number of provincial legislatures, which insisted no changes could be made without a formal constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces.
“While I look forward to welcoming elected Senators to the Upper Chamber in the future, these current vacancies must be filled in order for the Senate to transact legitimate government business,” Harper said. “If the opposition parties do not approve of these Senate appointments they should stop obstructing our attempts to introduce meaningful Senate reform.”
The Senate is an unelected body and has no role in confidence votes or in creating laws.