By BRIAN LAGHI AND DREW FAGAN
Friday, June 18, 2004
MONTREAL, OTTAWA -- Stephen Harper wouldn't close the door yesterday to appointing a non-elected Quebecker to a Conservative cabinet, as backroom manoeuvring accelerated over the makeup of a possible government.
Mr. Harper, campaigning in Quebec yesterday, refused on several occasions to rule out reaching into the Senate or into the private sector to ensure a voice for the province in a Conservative government.
Polls have put Mr. Harper in minority government territory, but even he conceded the party has more work to do before it begins electing members in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois is expected to win most of the province's 75 seats.
A government without representation from Quebec might prove a boon to the sovereignty movement, whose members would be able to exploit the omission.
It is not unprecedented to appoint a non-elected member to cabinet, but it happens rarely. Former prime minister Jean Chrétien appointed Pierre Pettigrew and Stéphane Dion before they won by-elections in Quebec in the mid-1990s. Pierre Trudeau also elevated senators into his cabinet when his government was bereft of MPs in large swaths of Western Canada.
Asked if he could assure Quebeckers that they would have government representation whether his party wins seats in the province or not, Mr. Harper said the paramount way to have influence is to vote Conservative.
"I won't rule out appointing anyone to a cabinet position [from Quebec] because I intend to get elected people from Quebec," he said. "That's the best way to do it. . . . I'm not here to speculate on failure."
Mr. Harper made his remarks despite the fact that he regularly peppers his speeches with pledges that Parliament under a Conservative government would not include non-elected representatives. He has promised he would appoint only elected senators.
Quebec has four Conservative senators -- David Angus, John Lynch-Staunton, Pierre Claude Nolin and Jean-Claude Rivest.
Mr. Harper spent the latter part of yesterday in Liberal Leader Paul Martin's hometown of Montreal and is expected to tour Quebec City, Richmond, Sherbrooke, and Drummondville. Although winning seats at this point is a long shot, Conservative officials have said the party is doing best in areas around Quebec's Eastern Townships, polling up to 20 per cent.
Earlier, Mr. Harper said Bloc sympathizers who want the country to avoid difficulties should opt for the Conservatives.
"I'm not prepared to throw in the towel at any time in Quebec," he said. He also said that he will not even talk to the NDP or the Bloc about a coalition.
Mr. Harper denied having named a transition team to help him with the transition of office should he win the vote, although two former chiefs of staff to Brian Mulroney -- Hugh Segal and Derek Burney -- have been reported as already being involved in transition planning.
Senior Conservatives said yesterday that the party is engaged in a particularly sensitive process. It must prepare for the possibility of taking office without appearing presumptuous. And it must do so by reaching out to all wings of the new party -- including those who played a role when Mr. Mulroney was prime minister from 1984 to 1993, provincial Tories who may now be interested in coming to Ottawa and activists from the days of the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance.
"It really is common cause right now," said Lee Richardson, a former deputy chief of staff to Mr. Mulroney, who is running for a seat in Calgary. "For someone like me who has seen some bitterness over the years, that is quite encouraging."
Mr. Harper has received high marks from party officials in recent months for uniting the new party. And they note that there should be little dissent so long as the party appears headed toward forming the next government. But, at the same time, many of the most experienced hands are from the Mulroney era, and this could eventually cause some waves internally if they take many of the senior posts.
"It will be an interesting challenge," said a party official, noting that Mr. Harper's immediate circle has little experience in governing. "Everybody underestimated Harper. He has been astute in not putting anyone offside. . . . But it's going to be fascinating to watch from here."