All aboard for the Senate patronage express

Russell Wangersky
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There’s not much that can be written about Fabian Manning’s reappointment to the Senate that hasn’t been said already. Response has ranged from sheer disgust to “What? Were you expecting the prime minister to appoint a Liberal to the job?” showing, once again, that propriety, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

But here are a few points to keep in mind: while Manning angrily bridled during the election campaign about being called “Senator,” and while he said he’d rather be working than essentially biding his time in the Senate, he didn’t ever say that he wouldn’t ride the gravy train right back into the Senate if he lost the election.

He lost, the train arrived exactly on time, and he took his comfy seat.

It arrived so very on time

that Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch has suggested there should be an investigation of the reappointment, along with the reappointment of another senator-turned-candidate-turned-senator-again, Larry Smith.

Here’s Conacher’s concern: “Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper’s quick reappointment to the Senate of two senators who resigned from the Senate to run for the Conservatives in the recent federal election raises serious questions about whether the senators were guaranteed in advance that they would be reappointed if they lost the election.

“Section 119 of the (Canadian) Criminal Code prohibits anyone from offering, and any MP or senator from accepting, ‘any money, valuable consideration, office, place or employment in respect of anything done … by them in their official capacity.’

“And Section 124 prohibits resigning or appointing people to offices for a reward or profit. … Prime Minister Harper’s reappointments provide the perfect case for a full investigation.”

But leave aside the question of whether the latest appointments constitute buying off politicians for a moment, and have a look at the process of Manning’s appointment.

Fact is, given his last sinecure, it’s probably a given that Manning was going to get some kind of federal plum. Putting him right back in the Senate, you have to believe, is meant to send some kind of message.


Because the move was so stage-managed. Harper finished his

last daily appearance in front of reporters and was safely out of reach when the news release announcing the Senate appointments came out — and it was issued so quickly that the Prime Minister’s Office couldn’t even get Manning’s bio straightened out.

The news release gives Manning double credit for a single election, saying, “He was subsequently elected as member of Parliament in the federal constituency of Avalon in the 2006 federal election campaign. Mr. Manning chaired both the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans as well as the Conservative government’s Atlantic caucus. He was subsequently elected as the member of Parliament for Avalon in 2006 and appointed to the Senate of Canada in 2008.”

Not only that, but Manning himself was studiously out of all contact — including cellphone range. It was left to opposition members — most notably, Liberal MP Scott Andrews and the NDP’s Ryan Cleary, to say what opposition members are supposed to say: things like “the Senate’s a gold-plated Conservative garbage can.” (Cleary’s words)

Truth is, Harper is only proving a point he’s made before: that the Senate is a junk heap of partisan hacks, and it’s going to stay that way, whether it’s Conservative hacks, Liberals hacks, or maybe someday down the road, NDP hacks.

As long as the place is a hack-fest, he seems to be saying, there’s no reason why the place shouldn’t be packed with his own friends and cronies.

Maybe retiring Senator Bill Rompkey and current Senator George Baker — both former Liberal politicians well used to riding the $63-million-a-year Senate patronage express — can explain just what’s wrong with Harper’s position.

And to anyone surprised by the move?

Well, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. It is, after all, the second go-round for Senator Manning.

Unjust political deserts probably await a good few other defeated Conservatives.

Because, despite the size of the deficit and the need for all of us to tighten our belts and lower our expectations, there’s always room for a few new ambassadors of something or other.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Conservatives, NDP, Standing Committee on Fisheries Senate of Canada

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Recent comments

  • bahha
    May 24, 2011 - 21:03

    all those comments about harper and his followers are total BS, u people might as well stfu. 60% of the canadian people voted of which 40% voted for harper that gave him the full authority to do just as he pleases and for the next 5 years he can do just that. you may as well suck it up and do as he says cos he sure ain't gonna listen to the people now when he has a majority when he didn't listen when he had a minority.

  • Covetous people commit covetous deeds.
    May 22, 2011 - 11:45

    Fintip - . By using some of the utterances of people who appear not to have one sensible brain cell in their cranium, you put your finger on the reasons for the economic problems that exist in our beautiful and resource-rich province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Our province since 1949 existed in Canada during great economic times that brought great economics to Canada and the Western World. While our province had lots of natural resources contained in a great geographic and strategic locationon the North Atlantic Trade routes, our province did not prosper. Instead those we elected to look after our affairs saw fit to give all of our developed natural resources away to build a Canada, with most of the industries and people anchored in the heart of the country. Our Newfoundland and Labrador politicians toed the line for what Ottawa wanted, knowing full well that their province would suffer economically but they personally had no worry themselves, because they knew that they would be looked after for the rest of their lives. How covetous is that type of mentality? To my knowledge not one of them has looked back over history with any regrets for what they did. This type of government and its policies need to be reformed immediately so that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador can take its rightful place in the history of Canada.

  • Rick
    May 21, 2011 - 17:30

    “I call on the Opposition parties to join us in democratizing the Red Chamber by passing Bill C-43,” the Prime Minister (Harper) (sic) said. “Canadians recognize that the time is long overdue for the Senate to attain democratic legitimacy.” This staement after he appointed an Albertan elected Senator, a gent named Bert Brown. No point in further decrying PM Harper's decision knowing he will be there for only four years is a good feeling. Too bad we in NL couldn't move toward electing Senators based on three-times-you-are-out which would guarantee Mr. Manning that he would never see the red seat again.

  • Fintip
    May 21, 2011 - 14:45

    In the words of that renowned Newfoundland legislative intellect, Rossy Barbour, "to the victor go the spoils, bye". What more blunt or eloquent defense could Manning find for his unending engorgement on the carcass of the hapless Canadian taxpayer. Not that Manning was actually a victor but, as we know so well from our Newfoundland history, you only require a tangental attachment to the victor to mine the glory hole of political patronage. Back some years ago, CBC was seeking the opinion of some residents of Conception Bay regarding the discovery that a local MP had been caught milking the public purse. While some expressed their disgust, one lady in particular had a different take on the whole affair. ‘More power to him’ she said. ‘At least someone from here is getting something out of that whole racket’. It is a sentiment still surprisingly in vogue. A Telegram article a few days ago -‘Fabian Manning Heading Back to the Senate’ – got 65 posts, some of which expressed the usual outrage and indignation. But there were more than a few defenders. Mused one poster under the name Don Lester “The question is not if it is right or wrong, the question should be - Which one of us would not do the same thing if we were in Fabian's shoes? I'm willing to bet that everyone of us would if it meant a good income and pension.” A sad, sobering reminder of just how little progress we’ve made, not just in the achievement of integrity in politics, but even the mere pubic expectation of it. The non-expectation of integrity has even been institutionalized in our federal system. It became clear from the Auditor General's report a short time ago that Canada's Ethics Commissioner Chritiane Ouiment had been given to understand that her job was to supress, cover-up, white-wash corruption in government – not expose it. But we should take some heart that, as a species, we are making progress in the area of public integrity if only at a snail’s pace. In late eighteenth century England, the Earl of Sandwich - a respectable chief bureaucrat by modern day standards – was under fire from the privileged class who wanted their offspring given senior naval appointments even though they had no training or experience. When Sandwich held his ground, insisting that merit not birthright should determine naval rank, he was accused of ‘corruption’. It turns out the very word ‘corruption’ was defined differently in those days. It alluded to ‘any perversion of the right order of society which denied the natural leaders of society what was theirs by right’. It may not be progress as such, but we can now attest to the fact that sleaze, corruption and patronage in government no longer extends itself just to nobility. Government graft is now something of an equal opportunity employer.

  • Ivan Tucker
    May 21, 2011 - 13:06

    I read with dismay,about Manning & Smith,not to mention the others that are in the senate,or mha's.Because of past dissapointments,i have become very weary of anyone who runs for a political seat. I had the privelege,of having a (PC) candidate come to my door.When i quiered him on concers i had,he was very resourseful,by indicating to me,how much they,as mha's have done for the country.Of the four questions i asked of this third term representative,he answered none.So,then i told him i evaluate a poticion on a three tick system.He asked me to explain.So i did.If i was to put a tick (yes) next to your name,& in four years you asked for my vote,& i did likewise,you now have thirteen years of service.That being my second tick.You decide to retire from politics at this time,you will get a handsome retirement package,with annual cost of living updates,plus other inherent handouts,You paid very little into the plan itself.Then he asked me what does the third tick represent? I answered him,by telling him that the third tick was for me.What do you mean? Well i have worked for this country for 43 years,& have been a volunteer for 40 years,so it ticks me off,that when i retire, i am relegated to a poverty income,& that my friend is not right.The government has to start at the bottom,& help the hard working retirees,not at the top to help corporations.To give elders a decent income on retirement,would keep that money in the Canada's pocketbooks,& maybe help to create jobs,ASno matter the increase for those on one income after retirement,would not be enough,for them to be lavish.Corpoations,whom you help,take their money & invest it outside of Canada.Also! if these eldery could afford to feed,cloth,themselves,maybe then we would save millions on hospital expenses.I'm afraid,that you people on the upper end,(POLITICIANS) don't get it,or even care.It is sad that me or anyone else has to feel so left behind,by our government,of Canada,that is surpossed,to be the best country in the world,is a crime on our society.I plead with our Federal,Provincial,municipal governments to look at the picture from the bottom up,not from the top down.I do believe,i'm now having a heart attack,& will need the use of a hospital.DAH !

  • Canadian Senate isn't required.
    May 21, 2011 - 09:50

    I am going to put the onus regarding the abolishment of the useless Patronage Express, the Canadian Senate on Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch. Mr. Conacher, as speaker for Democracy Watch, I am assuming is being paid by that organization to oversee and bring to the World's attention what is going on in supposedly Democratic Governments Therefore, since we know the Canadian Government will not get rid of any of the places it avails of for doling out Patronage for those who are willing to toe the line for them and thus shaft their electorate, some organization like Democracy Watch should see to it that it stops. I would like to see Mr. Conacher take on that task. The electorate of Newfoundland and Labrador is very angry and disgruntled over how we have been hoodwinked out of our RAW Natural Resources for the benefit of others, while we have languished without any appreciable economy and the highest Unemplopyment Rate in Canada, only to watch our elected representatives be rewarded with Senate Seats, Directorships and CEOs of large Canadian based Corporations, Ambassadors to inter-governmental agencies, etc., etc. With slaps in the face like that, there is no Democracy for the province of NL. Now that we Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are aware of how corrupt matters are, in a supposedly Democratic Government and I am sure Mr. Conacher is as well, we want matters changed to reflect the type of Government we are supposed to be ruled under, a DEMOCRACY! The Senate must be Reformed or made redundant.

  • No signal
    May 21, 2011 - 09:20

    Not to defend the appointment, because I'm not, I suspect the reason he was out of cell phone range is that there is no cell service in his home of St. Bride's. Unless he was supposed to sit home by the phone and wait for calls.