Who Will Be Next BC Senators?

Harper's short list ranges from Wai Young and John Reynolds to Jerry Lampert and Tung Chang.

By Will McMartin 17 Dec 2008 |

Veteran political analyst Will McMartin is a Tyee contributing editor.

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And maybe he'll toss in a kitty.

Santa Claus, in the form of Stephen Harper, is expected to deliver a special gift to three lucky British Columbians sometime in the next few weeks. The Conservative prime minister plans to quickly fill 18 vacancies in Canada's Senate, and three of those open seats are for B.C.

Who might be those three lucky individuals?

History suggests that former politicians will be among those considered for appointment. Of the 41 British Columbians named as senators since 1871, more than half -- 21 -- were former members of parliament. At least three more previously had served in B.C.'s legislative assembly, and another two had been mayors.

Many of the other appointees either stood (unsuccessfully) for public office, or worked in the backrooms as fundraisers, organizers or strategists.

Outside of politics, lawyers, business people and journalists have been favoured in the past.

Two aboriginal leaders in B.C. also garnered senate appointments, but to date just one person from the province's fast-growing visible-minority population has been awarded the honour. The number of B.C. women named to the red chamber is a paltry four.

So, to repeat, who among B.C.'s 4.3 million residents will Harper select for senate appointments this Christmas season?

Three characteristics appear necessary. First, it seems near certain that one or more appointees will be a woman. Second, at least one likely will be a visible minority. Third, favoured candidates will have some measure of political experience with the federal Conservatives or one of its earlier incarnations: the Reform party, the Canadian Alliance, and the Progressive Conservatives.

Finally, Canadian senators must be over 30, and younger than 75. They also must own property in B.C. with a value at least $4,000 higher than the individual's liabilities.

Women in the running

The foregoing suggests that Harper's ideal B.C. senate candidate would be a visible-minority woman who has been involved with the federal Conservatives or its predecessors, and is between 40 and 70 years of age.

Two possible appointees who match those criteria ran unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in the last federal general election. One was Wai Young, a Hong Kong-born social policy and program development consultant. She nearly pulled off an historic upset in Vancouver South, losing to Liberal MP and former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh by just 20 votes.

The other was Yonah Martin, who finished 1,500 votes behind NDP veteran Dawn Black in New Westminster-Coquitlam. A school teacher, Martin was born in Korea and emigrated with her family to Canada in 1972.

It obviously is a short list. But there are several B.C. women who have served as members of Parliament and likely are under consideration. Among them is Betty Hinton, who, after holding a number of municipal offices (including mayor of Logan Lake), won election to the House of Commons with the Canadian Alliance in Kamloops in 2000. She was re-elected with the Conservatives in 2004 and 2006, and served as parliamentary secretary to the minister of Veterans Affairs. Hinton quit politics and opted not to run in the most-recent contest, so she might not be interested in returning to Ottawa.

Sharon Hayes, elected as a Reform MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam in 1993 and 1997, may be near the top of Harper's list. She retired from politics to care for her ailing husband shortly after winning her second election, and later held a senior position with Focus on the Family Canada.

Hayes already has been vetted by the Harper government, which named her as chair of the Board of Referees in B.C. for the Employment Insurance Act.

Other Reform women elected to parliament in 1993 include Val Meredith in Surrey-White Rock-South Langley, Margaret Bridgman in Surrey North, and Daphne Jennings in Mission-Coquitlam. All must be considered long-shots for appointment to the Senate.

Meredith won re-election with Reform in 1997, and then again with the Canadian Alliance in 2000, but she lost the Conservative nomination in 2004. She then retired from politics, but later worked as an Ottawa lobbyist. Both Bridgman and Jennings quit federal politics after a single term in the House of Commons; the former made a bid in 2001 to win election to B.C.'s legislature with the provincial Reform party but was unsuccessful.

Another former MP possibly under consideration is Mary Collins, 68. She was elected to the House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative in Capilano in 1984, won re-election in 1988, and held a number of cabinet positions in Brian Mulroney's cabinet. Collins lost her seat in 1993, and has been active with BC Healthy Living.

Some more female possibilities

Interestingly, several electorally-unsuccessful women might be even more highly rated as potential senators than those who served as MPs. One is Cindy Silver, who finished second for the Conservatives in North Vancouver in 2006. A lawyer actively opposed to same-sex marriage, Silver won a Harper-government appointment to a Canada Pension Plan review tribunal.

Another Harper-government appointee is Kerry-Lynne Findlay, a Canadian Alliance candidate who finished second in Vancouver Quadra in 2000. Also a lawyer, Findlay was named to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Yet another is Faith Collins, who had a fourth-place finish in Victoria in 1993 as a Progressive Conservative candidate. She was unsuccessful in getting a Conservative nomination in 2004, but later got appointed by Harper to a Canada Pension Plan Review Tribunal.

Not to be forgotten are two women who ran for the Conservatives in the most-recent federal election. Deborah Meredith, a law professor at UBC's Sauder School of Business, twice was runner-up to Liberal Joyce Murray in Vancouver-Quadra (in the general election, and before that in a by-election), while Sharon Smith lost to New Democrat Nathan Cullen in Skeena-Bulkley Valley.

In 2003, Smith gained worldwide notoriety as mayor of Houston, B.C., after being photographed by her husband in council chambers wearing nothing but her mayoral chain of office. Four weeks ago, a month after losing the federal election, she was defeated as mayor.

Also likely to be considered is Mary McNeil, a lawyer who lost the Conservative nomination in Vancouver Quadra to Meredith. She later got a plum Harper-government appointment to the board of directors for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Lastly, a woman who was runner-up for the Progressive Conservatives in Prince George-Bulkley Valley in 1988 might make Harper's short-list. Valerie Kordyban, a lawyer, served two terms on the board of the Provincial Services Health Authority courtesy of Gordon Campbell's BC Liberals.

Men in the running

A handful or so visible-minority men have represented the Conservatives or their predecessors in recent federal elections, and might be considered for a red chamber appointment.

Hong Kong-born Ronald Leung recently ran for the Conservatives in Burnaby-Douglas, where he lost to incumbent New Democrat Bill Siksay. A former radio talk-show host, Leung made an unsuccessful 2005 bid for a seat on Vancouver City Council, and later became an assistant to a couple of Conservative cabinet ministers, Jason Kenney (multiculturalism) and Stockwell Day (public safety).

A three-time Tory candidate could get a serious look. Hong Kong-born Kanman Wong immigrated to Canada with his family in 1979, obtained a degree from UBC, and later became a computer consultant. He also found time to represent the Progressive Conservatives in Vancouver-Kingsway in 1997 and 2000, and the Conservatives in the same riding in 2006. In November, he lost a bid to win a seat on Vancouver City Council for the NPA.

The names of two failed Tory hopefuls in Vancouver South, both dentists, might be put forward as Senate candidates: Victor Soo-Chan was the Conservative representative in 2004 (and currently sits on the party's constituency executive in Vancouver-Kingsway), while K.K. Wan, a radio talk-show host, stood for the Progressive Conservatives in 1993.

Lastly, two more Hong Kong expatriates could find their way to the Canadian Senate. Patrick Wong, a Vancouver accountant, won election to the province's legislative assembly with Gordon Campbell's BC Liberals in 2001, but was defeated after a single term by New Democrat David Chudnovsky. Wong then became active with the federal Conservatives, becoming a special advisor on political operations, Asia-Pacific Affairs. He also sought the party nomination in Richmond, but lost to Alice Wong, who in October upset veteran Liberal MP Raymond Chan.

Prominent among Alice Wong's supporters was Tung Chan, the chief executive officer of SUCCESS, the immigrant-services society. A one-time NPA councillor in Vancouver, Chan also is an active backer of Campbell's Liberals, and won a provincial appointment to the board of Kwantlen College.

More male candidates

Lastly, any number of non-visible minority, male British Columbians might be named to the red chamber, although it is hard to see nearly all of the former Conservative, Canadian Alliance or Reform MPs getting serious consideration. Really, does it seem possible that Abbotsford's Randy White (1993-2006), North Vancouver's Ted White(politician) (1993-2004), Castlegar's Jim Gouk (1993-2006), or West Vancouver's Herb Grubel (1993-1997) could become a Canadian Senator?

One name stands out, however: John Reynolds. A veteran B.C. politico, Reynolds, 68, was a Progressive Conservative MP from 1972 to 1979, a Social Credit MLA from 1983 to 1991 (and served both as Speaker and environment minister), and finally returned to Ottawa as a MP with Reform, the Canadian Alliance and the Conservatives from 1997 to 2006. A red chamber appointment probably is his for the asking.

A handful of ex-Social Credit MLAs may be given brief consideration, but are long-shots to win a Senate appointment. Stephen Rogers_(politician), a cabinet minister and Speaker, represented the Conservatives in Vancouver Quadra in 2004 and 2006, but was runner-up to Liberal Stephen Owen.

Bud Smith, a former attorney general, spent many years in Progressive Conservative backrooms, and is no stranger to the Harper Conservatives. He has a federal appointment to the board of the Prince Rupert Port Authority.

A former BC Liberal MLA, Lorne Mayencourt, ran unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in Vancouver Centre in 2008, and seems unlikely to be asked.

Any number of Vancouver lawyers might see themselves as Canadian Senators, but only a handful would get serious consideration. They include veteran Tory organizers George Cadman, who is a Harper appointee to the Vancouver International Airport Authority, and Lyall Knott, who sat on the airport board from 1988 to 1994 courtesy of Brian Mulroney.

Among the Tory fundraisers who could be considered for the red chamber are Peter Webster of Petwyn Investments, Gerry Strongman of Tonecraft Corporation (Color Your World Paints) and a Socred MLA from 1975 to 1979, and Mike Burns Naikun Wind Group.

Both Webster and Burns have received government appointments from the Harper Conservatives. The former sits on the board of the Vancouver International Airport Authority, and the latter served as chair of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, but resigned a year ago when the Tories came under fire for a shortage of medical isotopes.

Jerry Lampert, a veteran Progressive Conservative and Social Credit strategist before becoming chief executive officer of the B.C. Business Council, might be up for consideration. After retiring from the business council in 2007, Lampert got a Harper government appointment to the B.C. Treaty Commission.

A well-known B.C. businessman who might be named to the senate is Future Shop-founder Hassan Khosrowshahi. He recently was put on the board of the Canada Post Corporation.

Finally, two veteran Progressive Conservative organizers, Jacob Brouwer and Don Hamilton, might be hampered by age consideration. Brouwer, an insurance industry veteran, headed the PC Canada Fund under Brian Mulroney, while Hamilton, founder of the CKLG radio station, was a close adviser to Joe Clark. The latter also is a mentor to newly-elected North Vancouver MP Andrew Saxton.

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