When will Stephen Harper appoint another senator?

It's been awhile and there are more vacancies to come

Pawel Dwulit/Toronto Star/Getty Images

At last report, the Prime Minister said he had “no immediate plans” to appoint another senator and when I asked last week about the Prime Minister’s current plans I was referred to those comments of his in August.

The Prime Minister’s last round of appointees was announced on January 25 (the appointment of Scott Tannas was announced on March 25, but Mr. Tannas had the benefit of having been elected in Alberta). Less than a week later, the Harper government announced that it was referring Senate reform to the Supreme Court.

Of course, the last 12 months have perhaps made it more difficult to be seen appointing someone to the upper chamber. And at least until the Supreme Court rules on the Senate reference, Mr. Harper can imagine that getting to an elected Senate is as easy as passing legislation through Parliament and waiting for the provinces to comply.

But there is some interesting math involved here.

With the departures of Gerald Comeau and David Braley, there are currently nine vacancies in the Senate and Hugh Segal is now due to retire next June. Another five senators will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2014: three Conservatives and two Liberals.

Even with the vacancies and even with the departures from caucus of Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin, the Conservatives still enjoy a 57-32 advantage in the Senate. If Mr. Harper filled all of the above vacancies with Conservatives, Mr. Harper could give the Conservatives a 68-30 advantage by the end of 2014.

Senator Segal’s impending departure also marks the slow decline of senators who were not appointed by Stephen Harper. Of the six known departures for 2014, including Mr. Segal, two were appointed by Paul Martin, two were appointed by Jean Chretien and one by Brian Mulroney. Of the current senators, three were appointed by Pierre Trudeau, seven by Mr. Mulroney, 22 by Mr. Chretien and 13 by Mr. Martin. The remaining 51 were appointed by Mr. Harper.

(Mr. Harper has so far made 59 appointments, good for sixth in the all-time standings, but three of those appointees were elected, so he could still be said to rank just below Mr. Mulroney’s 57 appointees. If Mr. Harper gets ambitious and fills all or most of the potential vacancies, he could get past Robert Borden for fifth all-time. He’d need some early retirements to get past Mr. Chretien for fourth.)

If Stephen Harper left the Conservatives with 68 members of the Senate, how long would a Conservative majority in the Senate remain in place? Obviously that depends on how quickly after 2015 a non-Conservative party or coalition formed government. But if there is a spring election in 2015 and the appointing of Conservative senators ceased shortly thereafter, it could be another four years before the Conservatives lost their Senate majority with the retirement of Raynell Andreychuk in August of 2019. That could, conceivably, reduce the Conservative count to 57. Jacques Demers’ retirement a week and a half later would reduce the count to 56.

On the other hand, if Mr. Harper declines to appoint another senator, the Conservatives could be down to 53 (or fewer, if anyone retires early) by the spring of 2015.