Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper this past week is continuing to get ready for the new legislative session in Parliament this fall and the second half of his term as Prime Minister by on Aug. 27 continuing to shuffle and make new appointments among his office staff, and on Aug. 30, naming a new Senate leader and a new Parliamentary budget officer. Harper wanted to give Quebec some additional prominence in his government after demoting the two Quebec ministers in his Cabinet; therefore he appointed Quebec Sen. Claude Carignan as the new Leader of the Government in the Senate and also named economist and Quebec native Jean-Denis Frechette as the Parliamentary budget officer.
Harper made his announcement on Aug. 30 about appointing Claude Carignan as the new Senate leader, which is no longer a cabinet level position since his reshuffle. Carignan, 48 is a Quebec lawyer, who was appointed by Harper to the Senate just in 2009, after failing to win a seat in the House of Commons riding of Riviere-des-Mille-Iles in the 2008 federal election. The next year, the Prime Minister decided to reward him a Senate seat.
Prior to that, Carignan served from 2000 to 2009 as the Mayor of Saint-Eustache, Que., and taught labour law at Universite de Montreal and at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal.
Sen. Carignan formerly held the deputy senate leader position since 2011, and replaces Marjorie LeBreton, who in resigned from, the leadership, then a cabinet post on July 4, after taking the heat at the start of the Senate expense scandal.
Harper released a statement announcing the appointment, writing; "I am confident that Senator Carignan has the experience, dedication and respect required to increase transparency and accountability in the Senate." Concluding Harper said; "I look forward to working with Senator Carignan in Parliament on strengthening the economy, keeping our streets and communities safe, celebrating our nation’s rich history, and promoting Canada’s interests on the world stage."
Carignan also released a statement in response and in appreciation. The new leader will mainly work on Senate reform in the next two years. Carignan stated; "In particular, I would like to reiterate my support for the Government's Senate Reform agenda and the Government's commitment to increasing transparency and accountability in the Senate. Canadians expect an effective and accountable Senate and that is what I will endeavour to provide in my new role as Leader of the Government in the Senate." The Supreme Court of Canada will consider Senate reform authority in the fall.
Carignan was chosen, because as a member of the internal economy committee, he oversaw the audits of the Senators embroiled in the expense scandal, the auditor general will continue the auditing process in the fall.
The Senate expense scandal erupted this past spring causing distress for the Harper government. Four senators are involved in the scandal for claiming housing and travel expenses that were inflated or may have not existed. Three senators were expelled from the Conservative caucus; Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau for inappropriately claiming funds for personal expenses that did not exist. The forth senator Mac Harb involved in the scandal had also been expelled from the Liberal caucus, retiring last week on Aug. repaying all 230,000 he owed the government. All four members that were under scrutiny are being investigated by the RCMP.
Also on Aug. 30, Harper announced that Jean-Denis Frechette will be the new Parliamentary budget officer in a five-year appointment that begins Tuesday, Sept. 3. He replaces Kevin Page, who finished his term earlier this year. Frechette's appointment was a surprise among government circles in Ottawa, since although he has nearly 30 years experience in economics he currently serves as the Senior director of economics, resources and international affairs division in the Library of Parliament's information and research service, he has never served in or run a government department, created a budget and as budget officer has to essentially act as the "budget watchdog."
However, Peter Van Loan, the Government Leader in the House of Commons praised the appointment, stating; "After more than a quarter-century providing strong, non-partisan support to senators and members of the House of Commons, he brings a deep and serious understanding of the needs of the client group that the parliamentary budget officer has a mandate to serve." The position is a relatively new one created by the Conservatives, and is also a reference information service position provided to members of Parliament, as Frechette is currently very familiar with.
Earlier in the week on Aug. 27, it was announced that Harper shuffled some of the senior staff in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), bringing some party faithful into the office, most of them young talent in their early to mid-thirties. Some of the appointments include the following; Jenni Byrne, Joanne McNamara and Guy Giorno become deputy chiefs of staff , Byrne will continue on as well as Conservative Party national campaign chair. Fred DeLorey is taking over Byrnes old position as Conservative Party's director of political operations. Alykhan Velshi has a new position in issues management; he was formerly director of strategic planning. Joseph Lavoie becomes the new director of strategic communications. The last notable appointment was Lanny Cardow named as senior advisor for market research to Ray Novak, Harper's chief of staff.
Still some major positions are left unfilled, especially in the Prime Minister's communications office. Andrew MacDougall the director of communications is leaving his position in September, while press secretary Julie Vaux, already left, and is preparing to commence a position at Health Canada. The changes come after Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright gave a personal check for $90,172 in February to cover the money Senator Duffy inappropriately claimed; Wright resigned in May after the payment was public he is the now the subject of an RCMP investigation, and director of issues management Chris Woodcock also resigned, he was one of three people in government familiar with Wright's check.
The Prime Minister is the middle of his term, with eyes on and strategizing towards the 2015 election, and also looking to get past the Senate expense scandal. Harper was intending this summer to accomplish three objectives, a speech at the Conservative Party convention at the end of June, reshuffle his cabinet, and then cap it all off with the throne speech to announce a new legislative agenda for the next two years of his term.
The flooding in Calgary, Alberta in mid-June delayed the Conservative Party's policy convention. Harper was planning a major speech to rally the Conservatives behind him, in a unified position. This put his plans off course, the party wanted to keep a promise to have the convention in Calgary, and were forced to reschedule until the city recovered. The Prime Minister wanted to ensure his throne speech and his convention speech coincided. This was the best way to bring them closer together.
The only part of his regrouping plan that he was able to accomplish was reshuffling his cabinet, which he did, announcing and swearing in a new cabinet on July 15. He also broke cabinet ties with the Senate, when he removed the Senate leader from a cabinet level position in his reshuffle.
Then on Aug. 19, 2013, Harper announced that he is requesting from Governor General David Johnson to prorogue Parliament, ending this legislative session, and begin the new fall session with his throne speech in the middle of October.
Harper is hoping that the Cabinet shuffle and new appointments, along with his throne speech, and his speech at the Conservative Party policy convention will press a reset on his tenure and focus on a new agenda for the second half of his term putting himself and the party in top form leading to the 2015 federal election.
- A continuing timeline of Senate woes, Postmedia News, Aug, 13, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.