Harper appoints 7 new senators

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed seven new senators Friday, including an elected senator from Alberta and Ottawa's police chief.

Ottawa police Chief Vern White, elected senator Betty Unger among them

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed seven new senators Friday, including an elected senator from Alberta and Ottawa's police chief. (Sheryl Nadler/Canadian Press)

Ottawa police Chief Vern White is among seven new senators appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday.

The list also includes Betty Unger, who ran for "election" to the Senate and is the first woman elected to the post. Bert Brown, who's in the Senate now, was also selected through a vote.

The first elected senator to sit in Parliament was Stan Waters, who was appointed by then-prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1990.

There are no Senate elections in Canada, but Alberta has allowed people to cast ballots for whom they want to represent them as senators.

Also appointed:

  • JoAnne Buth — Manitoba.
  • Norman Doyle — Newfoundland and Labrador. 
  • Ghislain Maltais — Quebec. 
  • Asha Seth — Ontario.
  • Jean-Guy Dagenais — Quebec.

Most of the appointments are effective immediately. White's appointment will take effect on Feb. 20. Dagenais must still pass the requirement that senators own property in their home province or territory before he can officially assume the role.

"I am pleased to announce the addition of seven remarkable Canadians to the Senate of Canada," Harper said in a statement. "All appointees have distinguished themselves in their fields of endeavour and in their service to fellow citizens."

The seven appointments fill the Senate, which now will sit with 61 Conservatives and 41 Liberals. One senator sits as a Progressive Conservative and two sit as independents.

PM rewarding party faithful, NDP says

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said Harper uses the Senate to reward the party faithful, override the wishes of Parliament and waste taxpayer money, despite his promise six years ago to clean up Ottawa.

"I was wondering what Stephen Harper’s New Year’s resolution was and I guess it’s to continue to breaking his promise and appointing his Conservative buddies and failed candidates to the undemocratic Senate," Angus said in a statement.

A spokesman for interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the timing of the announcement speaks for itself: It came Friday after 4 p.m. in Ottawa, so late in the day that it's difficult for newscasts to cover. The practice is common enough that it's referred to as "taking out the trash."

"The backgrounder makes it clear many of these appointments are intensely partisan," Daniel Lauzon said in a statement.

Dagenais ran for the Conservatives in the last federal election, losing to NDP MP Marie-Claude Morin. Doyle, a former Progressive Conservative MP, served as president of the Conservative Party.

Maltais worked as a contractor for the Conservative Party of Canada from 2006 to 2007, and has been the director of the Quebec wing of the party since 2009.

Seth is an obstetrician and gynecologist and won an award from the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2010.

White and Dagenais are both career police officers, and will likely play big roles in the government's justice agenda.

Senate reform stalled

The statement from Harper's office says all new appointees have pledged to support the government in its efforts to make the Senate more democratic and accountable, including legislation to limit senators' terms and encouraging the provinces and territories to hold elections for Senate nominees.

The government introduced Senate reform legislation last spring, but it hasn't been debated. Some premiers, including Ontario's Dalton McGuinty and Saskatchewan's Brad Wall, are opposed to it or have expressed ambivalence.

Unger was elected as one of Alberta's senators-in-waiting in 2004, along with Brown, Link Byfield and Cliff Breitkreuz. The elections were supposed to be good for six years, but in 2010 then-premier Ed Stelmach extended the terms for another three years. Byfield said that was equivalent to an appointment and resigned.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford has promised to hold a Senate election along with the next provincial election, which could come as early as March 2012.

With files from The Canadian Press