New Brunswick

Veteran MLA, Saint John lawyer fill open Senate seats

Prime Minister Stephen Harper elevated one of the province's longest-serving MLAs to the upper chamber Monday after filling New Brunswick's two vacant Senate seats.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper elevated one of the province's longest-serving MLAs to the upper chamber Monday after filling New Brunswick's two vacant Senate seats.

Veteran Conservative MLA Percy Mockler was given one of the coveted Senate positions along with John Wallace, a lawyer and former Tory federal candidate in Saint John.

The official call to the Senate came on the weekend and when the 59-year-old Mockler said he was "touched and honoured" by the appointment.

"I've always embraced the leadership of the prime minister. He has the leadership that I have always subscribed to, having a better Canada, having a Canada that will continue to lead in the world," Mockler said.

Mockler did, however, promote former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord as the federal Tory leader as well as organizing for Belinda Stronach when she ran against Harper for the federal party's leadership.

'It is a huge hole for us as a party. He has brought just an incredible amount of experience, an incredible network and work ethic.'— PC Leader David Alward

The appointment did not come as a surprise to Progressive Conservative Leader David Alward as he and Mockler had several conversations about the possibility of such an opportunity arising.

"He will be a huge gain for the Senate and for Ottawa. It will be a big gain provincially. He will be raising our issues at the federal level," Alward said.

"It is a huge hole for us as a party. He has brought just an incredible amount of experience, an incredible network and work ethic. You don't replace Percy."

Mocklet said the appointment came with no conditions on running in any future Senate elections or a firm mandate. He said he favours reform of the upper chamber and fixed mandates.

"I said [while a provincial cabinet minister] that we should reform and modernize the Senate and believing that senators should be elected and there should be a time on their mandate. I believe eight years is acceptable," he said.

Name was out there

Mockler's name has been circulating for more than a week. Premier Shawn Graham even offered a parting tribute to the Restigouche-la-Vallée MLA in Friday's question period in Fredericton.

"I want to state publicly that it has been an honour serving with Percy Mockler," Graham said.

"I have to say that, over the years, while we may have had differences of opinion — and he has been a bit of a political conniver every once in a while — his heart is in the right place."

Mockler was first elected in 1982 and like all Progressive Conservatives lost in the 1987 Liberal sweep. He served as then-prime minister Brian Mulroney's Atlantic organizer until his return to provincial politics in 1993.

Mockler was one of the first MLAs to support Lord when the young Moncton lawyer launched his provincial leadership bid. During Lord's seven-year stint in government, Mockler served in a number of cabinet posts, including transportation, family and community services and wellness, culture and sport.

'He's there to play the system. That’s a talent that they need.'—Don Desserud, UNB Saint John political scientist

Mockler is best known in political circles for his organizing skills. During byelections across the province, he was a frequently seen face in local campaign offices.

The Liberal government now has six months to call a byelection in the northwestern riding where the Conservatives have a long tradition in winning.

Mockler said he's already received three calls on Monday from Tories interested in replacing him. He also emphasized that he may be heading to the Senate but he will not shy away from getting Conservatives elected in his riding.

"If there is one thing that I will continue doing is to make sure the people of Restigouche-la-Vallée will choose a candidate and will choose the Progressive Conservative Party of David Alward, of which I'm a product of, too," Mockler said.

Alward said he expects Graham will call a byelection early in the new year.

Restigouche-la-Vallée was a new seat in the 2006 election, created from two old ridings. Mockler carried the election by more than 1,000 votes over the Liberal candidate who held the neighbouring riding before the merger.

Wallace served for seven years as partner with the Stewart McKelvey law firm in Saint John.

Previously, he had been corporate counsel for Irving Oil and ran unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in 2006, losing to Liberal Paul Zed by about 1,500 votes.

Wallace is the former president of the Waterfront Development Partnership. He said he expects his new job will be a challenge he's ready to tackle.

"I see this opportunity as one to make an important mark on Senate reform, and the issues that are really important to our country and to our province," Wallace said.

Harper filled 18 vacancies, spread across the country.

Harper's N.B. Senate picks strong choices: UNB prof

Don Desserud, a political scientist as the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, said both of Harper's selections in the province are solid choices and they fill two different needs for the Conservatives in the Senate.

Desserud said Mockler is an "old-school appointment" because of his long roots in the party and knowledge of how to move an agenda forward in the middle of a highly charged partisan arena.

"He's there to play the system. That's a talent that they need," Desserud said.

"It's fine to have a mix of people with [various] backgrounds, but you need someone who can make the machine work well."

As for Wallace, the political scientist called him a "classical choice" because of his history of working on local projects.

"Wallace is one of those candidates who has cross-party support," Desserud said.

"He has a lot of friends and a lot of admirers. That is more of a classical [appointment], he is not as much as a politician as community leader."