04/14/2016 11:33 EDT | Updated 04/15/2017 05:12 EDT

Peter Harder, Liberals' Point Man In Senate, Wants $800K To Set Up Shop

He asked the Privy Council Office for money and was told none would be coming.

OTTAWA — The Liberal government's point man in the Senate walked into a political storm Thursday over what he felt was a practical request for more than $800,000 from the upper chamber to effectively do his job.

Peter Harder told the committee that he wasn't asking for anything more or less than what Conservative Claude Carignan received when he was government leader in the Senate under former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Carignan had to ask the Senate for office money because he was not a part of Harper's cabinet like his predecessors, which made him ineligible for financial help from the Privy Council Office, the central bureaucracy that aides the prime minister and cabinet.

Senator Peter Harder waits to take his place in the Senate before being officially welcomed to the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday April 12, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

Harder — whose role is complicated by the fact that Liberal-appointed senators are no longer considered part of the party caucus — said he was told no funds would be forthcoming because of the precedent the Senate set with Carignan.

The money would cover the cost of nine staffers in his office as government representative in the Senate — four fewer than what Carignan had during his tenure under the previous Conservative government when he was leader of a caucus of more than 50.

Harder made the pitch for the money to help him usher through government legislation through the upper chamber — a process made more difficult by the lack any senators affiliated directly with the government — and try to build support for bills from the growing number of independent senators.

Independent ranks may swell

Harder said he expected the independent ranks to swell by 20 by the fall when the government makes its next round of appointments, creating more pressure points to garner votes without the hammer of party discipline.

The Conservatives on the internal economy committee, which oversees Senate spending, wanted details of how Harder was going to use the money and details of how the Senate would operate — and how funding would flow — if partisan caucuses disappeared and the Senate became a house of independents.

The talk was more politically charged than when the committee approved similar funds for Carignan, or topped up funding for independent Liberal Sen. James Cowan when he was opposition leader.

'I wouldn't tell you dick'

Independent Liberal Sen. Larry Campbell said neither Carignan nor Cowan would have been required to answer the same questions facing Harder.

"Planning, how I'm going to do things — I wouldn't tell you dick," Campbell said.

"I support what's going on," Campbell said of the ongoing reforms in the Senate, which included a move in 2014 by then-leader Justin Trudeau to essentially kick the party's senators out of the Liberal caucus, forcing them to sit as independents.

"I do not know how it will end or where it will be, but you know what? Sometimes that's how ideas and how great things take place."

Senators punted the request to a sub-committee that has yet to have members appointed to it.

Harder was among a group of seven senators who took their seats in the Senate this week — the first batch of senators appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau under a new appointments process.


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