Stephen Harper once had this to say about Canada’s cozy and important upper house: “Canadians understand that our Senate, as it stands today, must either change, or, like the old upper houses of our provinces, vanish.” Granted, this was over two years ago, more than enough time for any politician to make their supposedly heartfelt convictions go poof. And there it is: a year and a bit into his mandate and Harper has been appointing senators–who, if the Harper of yore is to be believed, are unelected, (at least) $132,300-a-pop professional thumbsuckers steeped in patronage–like your average power-drunk Liberal: 27 jowly, carbon-emitting pontificators in a single year. Far from ushering it into well-deserved oblivion, Harper seems instead intent on making sure the Senate has a very long, very blue future. Mein Gott.
But then, like a pack of avenging angels sent from the heavens of Quebecor, Le Journal de Montréal arrived on the (virtual) doorstep and laid waste to my pitiful knee-jerk cynicism. One look at the front page picture of possibly-still-illiterate former Habs coach-cum-Honorable Member Jacques Demers in all his pasty, bespectacled glory and it hit me: Harper has clung to his principles all along. By appointing a completely unqualified, barely literate hockey oaf who hardly bothers to show up, and who literally broadcasts his potential conflicts-of-interest on cable television, our Prime Minister is rubbing our noses in the sheer futility of the institution. He’s destroying the senate from the inside. It’s Machiavellian, Clausewitzian and even Sun Tzu-ian. An explanation after this here jump.
As with most Journal stories, today’s Demers yarn is entirely summarized by its headline. “Hockey Before The Senate: Jacques Demers promises to be more present… next year!” The story details how on 16 occasions Demers has had to choose between the highest echelons of Canadian government and a professional hockey team… and he chose the professional hockey team. As an (admittedly very good) analyst, Demers jawbones each and every Canadiens match on RDS. He is a slight more verbose when talking hockey than expressing his sober second thoughts: as the Journal notes, Demers has piped up exactly twice since his Senate appointment in September, once to commemorate the Habs’ 100th season, and once to settle a horde of randy Senators, allowing his colleague Wilbert Keon to speak. “Let the Senator speak and you can make your comments after,” he said. Sure thing, coach!
What the Journal doesn’t mention is how Demers continues to shill for Loto-Québec, an unfortunate coincidence given that stringent gambling legislation is a longtime project of Senator Jean Lapointe, whom Demers professes to admire. (Demers abstained from his first vote, which was an anti-gambling bill sponsored by Lapointe.)
It’s a job so easy and futile, Harper seems to be saying, that you hardly even have to speak to do it. Hang onto your day job, if you want. Hell, you practically don’t have to show up: Senators are allowed 21 ‘absent’ days without penalty, which (huzzah!) is roughly what he misses with his RDS gig. (Hopefully for him, Demers won’t have to cover the Habs during the playoff season, when the team will most likely be playing golf.)
Sadly, though, Demers says he will give up his RDS gig next year–no word on Loto-Québec, mind you–and promises to devote his full attention to the intricacies of Canadian democracy. “I’m starting to realize that I can’t do both jobs at once,” he told le Journal. When he does, Harper’s plan to abolish the Senate from within will backfire: the upper house will have the undivided attention of this toe pick-sharp political mind, and our Prime Minister will have to dig deeper into the annals of Canadian populism for his plan to work. Don Cherry, your country needs you.