POLITICS

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

01/06/2012 06:25 EST | Updated 01/07/2012 01:07 EST

A former cop and failed Conservative candidate will be the Tories’ new defenders of controversial crime legislation as study of the bill is finished in the Senate.

Jean-Guy Dagenais was among seven Conservatives senators named to the chamber on Friday. He will replace former Liberal senator Raymond Lavigne who resigned in March after being convicted of fraud.

As The Huffington Post reported in December, Alberta’s ‘elected’ Senate nominee Betty Unger was given a nod. Ottawa Police Chief Vern White, Manitoba’s JoAnne Buth, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Norman Doyle, Quebec’s Ghislain Maltais and Ontario’s Dr. Asha Seth were also appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper Friday.

Dagenais, however, will likely be sworn-in a few days later than his colleagues as he waits for the ink to dry on new property he had to purchase, a condo in l'Île-des-Soeurs, in order to receive his appointment.

"It was a bit difficult to get everything wrapped up during the holiday break," he explained.

Unlike other provinces, Quebec is divided into 24 senatorial districts and its senators must own at least $4,000 worth of property in the area they represent. Senators representing other provinces are not restricted to ownership in a certain provincial district.

Dagenais joked that he looked for a cheap piece of undeveloped land but that they weren’t easy to come by in the ritzy area.

The sixty one year old said he is extremely pleased to be appointed and is comfortable with the role he is being asked to play, defending the Conservatives’ crime agenda.

He said he fully supports Harper’s plans since he ran under the Conservative banner this spring, but failed to win the riding of Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot.

“Of course I’m not elected, but if I am asked to speak (to defend the legislation), I will be there. I will defend them in Quebec,” he said.

"I do have a particular knowledge of files that touch on public security," he added.

Dagenais noted that he is well known in Quebec and is often told that he is well liked by the Quebec media.

The former Senate spokesman, Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, was seen as being too ‘soft’ and not the defender of the Tories’ plans.

With Dagenais, a close friend of the Conservative’s Deputy-Leader in the Senate, Claude Carignan, the Conservatives gain a former cop and former president of the Association of Provincial Police in Quebec.

People don’t always understand the details of the government’s legislation, he told HuffPost.

“Are this misinformed? Or is there a bad interpretation being given? It will be up to us, and perhaps myself, to help people understand correctly our position on certain bills,” Dagenais said.

“When it comes to young offenders, people often think that the government wants to send all young people in jail, which isn’t quite the case. The young offender has to have committed a serious act. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will go to jail … it just means that the judge will be given a few extra tools to judge the situation,” Dagenais added.

People are also ill informed about the gun registry, he said. “People think the registry will be scrapped. But no, it’s only the long-gun registry … which really only deals with guns used to hunt ducks,” he said.

Despite the fact that many police organizations have come out in support of the long-gun registry, Dagenais who spent 34 years working with the Sureté du Quebec, said when he was a cop he didn’t use the registry “11,000 times a day.”

In fact, Dagenais claims that he still has a lot of friends who are cops and “when I ask them the question, do you often use the gun registry, they respond, no.”

NO REQUIREMENT TO QUIT AFTER SENATE REFORM BILL PASSED?

Friday’s news releases from the Prime Minister’s office said all new appointees had pledged to support the government’s effort to make the Senate more democratic and accountable, including legislation to limit the term lengths of senators and to encourage provinces and territories to hold elections for Senate nominees.

Legislation currently before the House of Commons would limit a senator to one non-renewable 9 year term.

Harper’s announcement did not say the appointees had promised to leave after their term had expired.

The Senate needs to be reformed, Dagenais told HuffPost, and if he is forced to leave the seat he now has, before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, to run in an election to keep the seat, he will.

“This is legislation that I am less familiar with, so I will take the time to read it but if I am told in 9 years that I must leave the Senate and go register with a slate of candidates to be elected, I am not scared because I already ran in an election as a candidate and I’ll do it again,” he said.

However, the Prime Minister, Dagenais noted, never asked if he would abide by the rules of the Conservatives’ new Senate reform legislation.

“The Prime Minister called me and he said Jean-Guy, I think you have an interest in the Senate, so I will recommend your nomination to the Governor General, that is what was said to me,” Dagenais told HuffPost. “We didn’t go any further.”

Dagenais said he didn't have to go into politics and could have taken a comfortable retirement, but instead of spending the winters with his spouse in Florida, where they own a home and where he spent much of the last year, he'll be hard at work in chilly Ottawa.

"This is a way for me to engaged and to do the work that I was hoping to do as a member of Parliament, but unfortunately, I wasn't elected because people didn't elect m,e but this is a way for me to get engaged," he said.

"I really like Mr. Harper. I like his method of operating ... (and) I have pledged all my loyalty to him," he added.