Harper’s new Senate appointees have been unjustly criticized as unqualified. In fact, they’ve earned their spots in Canada’s august Upper House.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent appointments to the Senate have provoked unyielding indignation from all corners of the Canadian political landscape. The prime minister is perhaps justifiably a target of criticism in this case. Having long taken a hostile posture toward the Red Chamber, he has in recent years dramatically changed course, letting political expedience get the best of him.
The Senate appointees, however, deserve our thanks, not our castigation.
But that is not how the prime minister’s latest Senate picks were greeted. Quite the contrary, three in particular – Doug Finley, Carolyn Stewart Olsen, and Don Plett – bore the brunt of harsh attacks as soon as the Prime Minister’s Office made the announcement. Given that each of them had played a pivotal role over the years in the Conservative party’s political apparatus – Finley as national campaign manager, Stewart Olsen as Harper’s director of communications, and Plett as party president – critics argued that they were unfit to serve in the Senate.
What an odd argument to make, particularly since the Senate currently counts among its members the Liberal party’s current campaign co-chair, former national director, and former director of communication in the PMO.
That the prime minister chose to reward party stalwarts should come as no surprise. If ever there were an immutable law of political leadership, there it is, in full bloom. Patronage, neither a good thing nor a bad thing, is the lifeblood of politics, a simple fact of conventional political practice.
But what critics failed to appreciate is that Harper’s choice of Finley, Olsen, and Plett reflects principle, not patronage.
Consider that citizens are usually moved to become politically engaged for one or more of five reasons: power, proximity, profile, privilege, and principle. Those are the five Ps of politics.
It was principle that motivated Finley, Olsen, and Plett to devote much of their lives to help build the Conservative party into the reigning political force it is today.
Sure, the Harper troika exercised immense power in their respective roles as advisers to the Conservative party and the PMO. True, they were all close to the centre of the political universe. And it is certainly undeniable that they now take pride and pleasure in serving in the august Senate, one of the greatest privileges in Canadian politics. Yet none of these reasons was the impetus that spurred them to action years ago when the Conservatives had not yet even been reunited and a return to 24 Sussex seemed virtually impossible.
Largely due to the tireless work of Finley, Olsen, and Plett in rebuilding what had once been a dispirited party beset by bickering and seemingly doomed to deadlock, the Conservative party was reborn and is now thought by a plurality of Canadians to be the right team to lead the country through these tumultuous economic times. Guided by their convictions, beliefs, and aspirations for Canada, the Harper troika made it their mission to right the balance in Canadian politics.
What is most significant about the work of Finley, Olsen, and Plett is not that they brought the Conservative party back to power. It is rather that they helped give Canada what it had lacked for so long: a true democracy where a viable alternative to the governing party always stands at the ready. And whether you support the Liberals or Conservatives, or you are fiercely non-partisan like me, that is something for which Harper’s troika deserves our thanks.