Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Westman still wants in (to the Senate), Mr. Harper

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BRANDON -- Since becoming a province in 1870, Manitoba has been represented by 45 men and women in the Senate of Canada. While almost one-half have been Winnipeggers, there have been four from St. Boniface (before it became part of Winnipeg), at least four from the southeast area of the province, four from the Portage la Prairie area, and two from Selkirk.

With those numbers in mind, it is surprising that just four of those 45 senators resided in western Manitoba at the time of their appointments.

Killarney resident Finlay Young was appointed by Wilfrid Laurier 113 years ago, while Souris resident Frederick Schaffner was appointed by Robert Borden in 1917. Robert Forke, the lone Brandonite appointed to the Red Chamber, served from 1929 until his death in 1934.

Only one western Manitoban has been appointed to the Senate in the past 84 years -- Ste. Rose's Gil Molgat, who was appointed by Pierre Trudeau in 1970 and died in 2001. Westman has had no voice in the Senate since his death.

If the role of the Senate is to ensure regional representation in Ottawa, how can that objective be reconciled with the fact that the western half of Manitoba has been so chronically underrepresented throughout the 143-year history of this province?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has an opportunity to help remedy this long-standing imbalance two weeks from now, when Manitoba Sen. Terry Stratton reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75. Stratton's departure will create an opening in the Senate, and it should be filled by someone from Westman.

If Harper chooses to go that route, he has a long list of Conservatives to choose from.

They include Brandon-Souris MP Merv Tweed and former Dauphin MP Inky Mark. Rick Borotsik represented Brandon as mayor, MP and MLA.

Then there are former provincial cabinet ministers Harold Gilleshammer, Len Derkach, Brian Ransom, Jim Downey and Jim McCrae. A former Manitoba health minister and attorney general, McCrae is currently serving his third term on Brandon's city council.

Any list of potential appointees would also include current MLAs Larry Maguire, Cliff Cullen and Leanne Rowat, who have each served the region well for years. Dave Burgess served as Brandon's mayor for two terms, while Ken Waddell is currently serving as Neepawa's mayor. If Harper favours the energy of a younger appointee, he can choose from two-time provincial candidate Mike Waddell (Ken's son), longtime party worker D'Arcy Barker, Métis activist Wil Goodon, or even Goodon's wife, Brandon University political science Prof. Kelly Saunders.

If the presence of numerous viable candidates alone cannot sway Harper to select a western Manitoban to fill Stratton's seat, another factor for the prime minister to consider is something that he is known to value highly -- loyalty.

No region in the country is or has been more loyal to the Conservative party than Westman. Since 1951, Brandon-Souris voters have elected a Conservative or Progressive Conservative candidate in every federal election and byelection except one.

While Westman has been a reliable supporter of the federal Conservatives, the loyalty has not been reciprocated. It has been 96 years since a Westman Conservative (Schaffner) was appointed to the Senate, and 50 years since a Brandon-Souris MP sat at the federal cabinet table.

Some will argue a Senate seat isn't worth fighting for, given the institution's perceived irrelevance. While that's a national discussion worth having, the Senate continues to make decisions on national issues and Westman is entitled to have its concerns heard -- and there is no shortage of concerns.

They include immigration policy, infrastructure, air service and transportation, flood protection, the booming resource industry, rural depopulation, doctor shortages and the long-term future of CFB Shilo.

For more than a decade, Harper told Canadians "the west wants in."

Though western Canadian interests have played a greater role in national decisions since he assumed power in 2006, Westman remains largely shut out of the process.

The prime minister can change that a few weeks from now, by appointing a western Manitoban to the Senate.


Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2013 A11

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