Given the relative obscurity under which the senate operates, it may be a surprise to learn that a small group of senators continue to sit as Progressive Conservatives, a party which no longer exists officially, rather than with Harper's crew. In the House of Commons, presumably the former PC MP, former CPC MP, now independent MP, Bill Casey, still identifies himself as a Progressive Conservative in spirit if not in name.
In an editorial last week (Federal PCs, call it a day, attached) The Globe and Mail editorialists called upon Progressive Conservative Party holdouts to give up their independence from the Conservative Party of Canada, suggesting that the CPC had a welcoming "big tent" for them to enter. My letter to the editor on the subject was published two days later, and in part I said:
It should be clear to you by now - your own paper has reported extensively on the secretive and highly controlling nature of Mr. Harper's leadership - that Mr. Harper's tent is big enough only for himself.
Canadians, including former Progressive Conservative members who support, for example, real action on the environment, or a federal government willing to take on the provinces in support of programs of national vision and scope, or an open government truly accountable to Parliament, won't find support for these notions under Mr. Harper's petite, presidential parasol.
Senators Norman Atkins (a Mulroney appointment), Elaine McCoy (Paul Martin), and Lowell Murray (Joe Clark) are the three Progressive Conservative hold-outs that have thus far refused to sit with the Conservative caucus.
Atkins in 2004 gave a speech outlining his reasons for sitting as a Progressive Conservative; in subsequent debates and speeches, including this 2006 commentary following Harper's first throne speech (PDF), Atkins continues to illustrate, as have many senators, that its possible to hear independent voices in the senate regardless of party affiliation. Contrast that to the cookie-cutter stay-in-line approach of Harper's fiefdom where most MP's are forbidden to speak to the media except under a tight leash -- or noose!
Picking just one example to illustrate the incompatibility, the issue of senate reform, its clear that Atkins doesn't favour an elected senate. Murray has said:
The Senate provides some check on the power of Cabinet and its Commons’ majority without challenging or offending today’s democratic culture. Contrary to the working assumption of many of our critics, journalistic and otherwise, repeated studies have shown that the Senate’s work is cost effective. Its abolition would only increase the already excessive control of our governmental institutions by the Cabinet and bureaucracy.
“Triple-E” advocates, who believe that elected senators from their regions would be impervious to the call of party loyalty and could be counted on to support the perceived regional perspective instead, are not thinking realistically.
Agreed, and absent any meaningful proposal, I can not get behind either Harper's franken-senate or Layton's call for abolition.
More to the point, the elected side of parliament - the House of Commons - is far more dysfunctional than the senate has ever been. Perhaps if Harper were to clean up his own act, reduce the power of the PMO and drop his own presidential ambitions and put more power in the hands of un-whipped, elected parliamentarians - then people could take seriously his call for senate reform.