September 29, 2010

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not been able to win a majority in the House of Commons but by managing the longest serving minority government in Canadian history Harper has managed to get in position to take control of the Canadian Senate. Given Harper's Reform Party based Senate reforming roots, this must be a particularly gratifying accomplishment.

In Canada Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the advice or nomination of the current Prime Minister. Generally Prime Ministers nominate Senators who share the same political views and who will join the Government caucus in the Senate. Occasionally exceptions have occurred to this rule, such as the nomination of the late Reform Party Senator Stan Waters by Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney after Waters won a Senate election in Alberta. Liberal Prime Minister also nominated several Progressive Conservatives Senators in an attempt to exasurbate the split between the reminants of the old PC party and new Conservative Party of Canada. Senate appointments are often made to reward political allies and exceptional public service.

Canadian Senators are appointed for life, but subject to a mandatory retirement at age 75. Since Senators may be appointed at any age, the actual term of office varies widely. Currently the longest serving Senator is Lowell Murrey, nominated by Joe Clark way back on September 13, 1979. Senator Murrey will retire when he turns 75 years old in September 2011.

Prior to January of 2010 the Liberal Party of Canada held a majority in the Senate as a result of Senator nominations by Liberal Prime Ministers Trudeau, Chretien, and Martin. The Conservatives held a minority of the Senate seats as a result of nominations by Progressive Conservative Prime Ministers Clark (late 70's) and Mulroney (1986-1993) and three nominations of by Liberal PM Martin of PC Senators that switched to support the Harper Government.

Initially Prime Minister Harper held off nominating any Senators with two notable exceptions. Upon election in Febuary 2006 appointed Micheal Fortier to Cabinet and quickly nominated Fortier to the Senate even though Fortier was not elected (and had not even run in the election). This was a move to ensure Montreal was represented in Government even though no Conservatives won seats in the Montreal area. Fortier resigned in September 2007 to unsuccessfully run in the General Election.

Harper also nominated Elected Senator in Waiting from Alberta Bert Brown in July 2007. Brown is the only elected Senator in the upper chamber and only the second elected Senator in Canadian history (Stan Waters being the first).

Harper was hoping to push forward Senate reform to create a Triple E (Equal, Elected, and Effective) , or to at least encourage other Provinces to institute laws to elect Senators in Waiting (one of the E's). British Columbia moved toward electing Senators but a change in government ended that intutive.

Faced with the difficulty of passing legislation through the Senate increasing dominated by Liberals as mostly long time Conservative Senators retired, Harper started filling Senate seats in earnest in January 2009, with 16 nominations on January 2, 2009, 2 nominations on January 8, 2009, and a 19th nomination on January 19th, 2009. Another 8 nominations followed on August 27, 2009 bringing the total siting Conservative Senators nominated by Harper to 28. These Senators pledged to step aside or run in any Senate election that would result from Senate reform.

Harper continued to nominate Senators in 2010 with 7 more nominations to fill vacancies as they developed.

As of November28, 2010 35 Senators nominated by Prime Minister Harper hold Senate seats. Combined with 17 Conservative Senators nominated by Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Liberal Paul Martin, these 52 Conservative Senators form the largest party in the Senate, facing 48 Liberals, 2 remaining PC Senators, 2 Independents and 1 Liberal outside the Liberal Party (53 Senators). The retirement of Liberal Senator Stollery on September 29, 2010 reduced the Liberals to 48 seats and opens the way for a Conservative appointment that would bring the government to an absolute majority of 53 out of 105 Senate seats.

The one remaining 2010 retirement is also of a Liberal and 2011 will bring 3 more Liberals and a Progressive Conservative Senator's retirement, as well as one Conservative retirement. Of course Senators may also die or resign further opening opportunities to nominate Senators.

Senator Party Represents Appointed Retires Nominated By
Lapointe, Jean Lib. Québec (Saurel) 2001-06-13 2010-12-06 Chrétien (Lib.)
Rompkey, Bill Lib. NL/T.-N.-L (Newfoundland and Labrador) 1995-09-21 2011-05-13 Chrétien (Lib.)
Pépin, Lucie Lib. Québec (Shawinegan) 1997-04-08 2011-09-07 Chrétien (Lib.)
Kochhar, Vim C Ontario (Ontario) 2010-01-29 2011-09-21 Harper (C)
Murray, Lowell Prog. Conser. Ontario (Pakenham) 1979-09-13 2011-09-26 Clark (Prog. Conser.)
Banks, Tommy Lib. Alberta (Alberta) 2000-04-07 2011-12-17 Chrétien (Lib.)

This table is extracted from s sortable list of Senators available on the Senate website. The Senator list is updated immediately when the Senate standings change and can be sorted by party, appointment date. retirement date, and by who nominated each Senator.

So long as Harper nominates Conservatives to fill the current vacancy and the up coming one on December 6, 2010 and so long as there are no deaths or resignations of Conservatives, Conservative control of the Canadian Senate will be somewhat assured for several years to come.

The next two Conservatives to retire are on September 26, 2011 and July 4, 2012. In the mean time Harper will get to replace 7 opposition Senators should the Harper government last that long.

The wild card to all this is the ability of the Prime Minister to appoint extra Senators under Section 26 of the Constitution. Harper is very unlikely to invoke Section 26 though given his opposition to an appointed Senate and a Liberal Prime Minister (possibly in a minority government) would be ill advised to adding Senators. The NDP opposes the existence of the Senate so if the NDP is involved in a collilition government they would oppose the addition of extra Senate seats.

Expect Prime Minister Harper to nominate two new Conservative Senators in December 2010 or January 2011 to finally gain control of the Senate. Next expect another Senate nomination to fill the upcoming vacancy for Newfoundland in May 2011 and another batch of nominations in October 2011 to fill a Quebec and two Ontario vacancies caused by September 2010 retirements. The December 2011 retirement of Alberta Liberal Senator Tommy Banks would most likely see another elected Alberta Senator in Waiting nominated to the upper chamber.

Update: December 6, 2010. With the 75th Birthday of Liberal Senator Jean Lapointe on December 6, 2010 control of the Canadian Senate passed into the hands of the Conservative Party of Canada caucus. As of December 6, 2010 the standings in the Upper Chamber were:

Conservative Party


Liberal Party


Progressive Conservative


(McCoy, Murray)



(Cools, Rivest)



(Lavigne – Suspended but still drawing a salary)

Subtotal Others

Vacant seats



(Ontario, Quebec)




The replacements for the two recent vacancies will complete the Conservative's control position bringing the party into an absolute majority in the Upper Chamber, but even without the new nominations the balance of power has shifted. Control of the Senate will allow Prime Minister Harper to start instituting Senate reforms long blocked by the former Liberal majority. These could include term limits to 8 years, mandatory elections, and possibly other changes.