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 email@example.com.