Tory boss says he’s qualified for job

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OTTAWA -- Manitoba's newest senator wants to limit how long he can keep his new job.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/08/2009 (4907 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba’s newest senator wants to limit how long he can keep his new job.

Don Plett, the president of the Conservative Party of Canada, was confirmed Thursday as one of nine new senators appointed to Parliament’s upper chamber.

"I am honoured and humbled the prime minister would see fit to appoint me," Plett said.

HANDOUT / canwest news service archives Don Plett runs plumbing business in Landmark.

He said implementing the Conservative agenda, including reforming the Senate to include term limits of eight years and elected senators, will be his priority.

Although all nine appointees, including Plett, had to agree to a term limit of eight years, that is unofficial and unenforceable. The current rules only require senators to retire at 75.

Plett said he will focus on helping Prime Minister Stephen Harper get his reforms through.

"The prime minister has made clear he wants term limits and I fully support that," he said.

Plett said the Conservatives cannot get their Senate reforms passed while the Liberals hold a majority in the Senate.

"The prime minister has made clear he wants Senate reforms but the Liberals have prevented us from doing it," Plett said. "In order to do it we need to have the numbers in the Senate."

Harper held off filling most vacancies until last December, when an opposition coalition threatened to topple his government. He appointed 18 senators last year and nine more this week.

That brings the standings in the Senate to 53 Liberals and 46 Conservatives. There are two Progressive Conservatives, three independents and one senator identified as "other."

Depending on the outcome of a potential fall election, Harper could have four more openings to fill by January, which would give the Tories an equal number with the Liberals.

After that he has to wait until November 2010 to gain his one-seat majority.

Plett’s appointment brings the standings in the Senate in Manitoba to three Liberals (Sharon Carstairs, Maria Chaput and Rod Zimmer) and three Conservatives (Janis Johnson, Terry Stratton and Plett).

Carstairs and Zimmer both said they welcome Plett to the fold.

"I welcome him to the Senate as I do all new senators," Carstairs said. "He will represent rural Manitoba and that is a good thing."

But the appointment of Plett — one of many Harper loyalists rewarded with a Senate post on Thursday — did not sit well with everyone.

Members of the federal NDP, which has long advocated for abolishing the Senate, were livid.

"It makes my blood boil that Harper just off-loaded the Conservative party payroll onto the taxpayer," said Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin.

"Why should we pay for his party president’s salary and travel expenses?"

Plett said he will let his record speak for itself on whether he is qualified.

He is a lifelong resident of Landmark, Man., where he runs a plumbing and mechanical business, a car wash and a land development agency.

He has been the president of the united Conservative party since it was created in 2003, and was the president of the Canadian Alliance before that.

He has also been active in his community, including president of the Landmark Minor Hockey League and president of the Chamber of Commerce.

He also used to sit on the board of Red River College, where he went to college.

Last fall, when seeking re-election as the Conservative party’s president, he said he had thought about running for office but preferred to run campaigns rather than be a candidate.

He said as a senator he will still be able to help manage campaigns, so the job won’t be a huge change from much of the work he is doing now.

"It’s not a change of heart but a change of venue," he said.

He must step down as party president however, due to a party policy.

He said he will remain on only until a replacement is found, probably in a month or two.

 

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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