POLITICS

Canada's New Senators: Vern White, Betty Unger Among Seven New Appointees

01/06/2012 04:59 EST | Updated 03/07/2012 05:12 EST
CP
OTTAWA - Ottawa's chief of police, a former Conservative MP and the first woman electee to the upper chamber are among seven new Conservative Senate appointees.

Vern White, who has led the Ottawa police for almost five years, had previously been touted as a candidate for RCMP commissioner — but Prime Minister Stephen Harper tabbed him for a Senate seat instead.

"I'm always looking for ways in which we can support victims of crime and particularly make criminals more accountable," said White, who will step down as chief before taking his seat Feb. 20.

"I hope that I can make a real difference in the Senate."

Betty Unger, who fills a vacancy in Alberta, was the choice of more than 300,000 people for a Senate seat in a 2004 ballot in that province.

Norman Doyle, who will represent Newfoundland and Labrador, spent 12 years as Conservative MP for St. John's East.

The other new senators are JoAnne Buth of Manitoba, president of the Canola Council of Canada, Ghislain Maltais of Quebec, where he was a Conservative party organizer, and Asha Seth, a medical doctor and philanthropist from Toronto.

Harper also announced his intention to appoint to the Senate former policeman and failed Conservative candidate Jean-Guy Dagenais of Quebec.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus swiftly denounced the appointments as cushy rewards for party loyalists.

"It stinks," said Angus. "These are puppets of the prime minister."

The NDP has never held a Senate seat and has long advocated abolishing the upper chamber.

The appointments give the governing Conservatives a commanding majority in the Senate with 61 seats, 20 more than the Liberals. There are also two Independents and one Progressive Conservative.

It brings the total number of senators appointed by Harper to 48.

A vocal supporter of Senate reform, Harper had generally held off from appointing senators until late 2008, when he named 18 to the chamber.

The new Conservative presence in the Senate, once dominated by Liberals, has allowed the government to speed legislation through the chamber and exert more control on committees.

Announcement of the newest crop came late on a Friday afternoon in Ottawa, well after the prime minister had held a media availability on a new government program.

In a statement, Harper said all new appointees have pledged to support the government's efforts to make the Senate more democratic, including legislation to limit the term lengths of senators and encouraging the provinces and territories to hold elections for Senate nominees.

Dagenais said his appointment isn't a plum post but a chance at public service.

"Above all, the prime minister knew that I wanted to get involved. I ran as the Conservative candidate in Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot during the election campaign. Maybe it was a way of giving me the opportunity to serve," he said.

Dagenais has yet to clear one hurdle — the purchase of property in the province, a requirement for members — before officially becoming a senator.