Harper's Senate picks turn off Canadians: Layton

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has named three losing Conservative candidates to the Senate — including two former senators who had stepped down to run for election.

The naming of defeated Conservative candidates to the Senate just two weeks after the election is part of what's turning people off about Ottawa, NDP Leader Jack Layton said Wednesday.

Layton attacked Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who nominated three losing Tories — including two former senators who had already stepped down from the Upper Chamber to run.

"Mr. Harper talks about Senate reform but he's doing things in the same old way, in fact even worse," Layton said.

"He's taking people who have been defeated, who have been rejected by voters.... You should earn your place in the Senate and if you can't get elected, you shouldn't be appointed to the Senate two weeks later."

Harper's office announced just after Wednesday's cabinet shuffle that Larry Smith and Fabian Manning were getting their seats back. They resigned to run for election, but both lost. Josée Verner, who was Canadian Heritage and Intergovernmental minister under Harper but lost her riding on May 2, is also getting a Senate seat.

Before he was prime minister, Harper often railed against undemocratic appointments to the Senate and demanded reform. But he came under fire just days after first taking office when he named Michael Fortier to the Senate to represent Quebec in cabinet. Fortier later resigned to run as an MP in the 2008 election and lost.

Defends choices

Marjory LeBreton, the government's leader in the Senate, defended the move as she left Rideau Hall, saying until the Senate is reformed, the government will continue to fill vacancies.

"I am actually very happy that all three of them are in the Senate. They will contribute greatly to the agenda of the government. They've all had parliamentary experience," she said.

LeBreton denied the Conservatives were ignoring the wishes of voters who denied seats to the three new senators.

"We do respect the will of Canadians," she said. "We will bring in legislation at the appropriate time and we will reform the Senate and then once the legislation has been brought in and passed by Parliament we will have a new system. Until we have that new system we will work with the system we have."

Just before the election, Manning compared a Senate workday to that of an MP, implying it was less work.

"I had a choice. I could have stayed in the Senate and gone on with a lifestyle that wouldn't necessarily have me up every day working on behalf of the people. I chose not to," said Manning, when he announced he was leaving the Senate on March 28.

Smith, who left a job as president of the Montreal Alouettes, said when he was appointed that he was taking a catastrophic paycut. A senator's base annual salary is $132,300.

The day after the election, Smith said he had "no illusion of returning to the Senate because I have resigned and that was a condition of me running."

Speaking to CBC Montreal's Homerun, Smith said the salary comment was "a lack of sensitivity" and "just part of the training I had to go through."

"What's most important is that the prime minister's set a course for Senate reform," he said.

Harper has yet to move on any of the reforms he proposed as opposition leader.

The news release announcing the Senate picks was sent to the media just minutes after Harper took reporters' questions on his way out of Rideau Hall following a cabinet shuffle Wednesday morning.

The Conservatives will enjoy an absolute majority in Senate, with 55 seats out of 105.

There are 25 scheduled senator retirements between now and the next election in Oct 2015, including four between now and the end of this year.

With files from The Canadian Press