Harper names senators, shifts upper house balance

Fri Jan 29, 2010 10:49am EST
 
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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gained a big advantage in the upper house of Parliament on Friday when he named five senators who are likely to vote with his Conservative government on legislative matters.

The appointed Senate, until now dominated by the opposition Liberal party, has the power to block legislation or send it back to the elected House of Commons for revisions.

The Conservatives have a minority of seats in the lower house of Parliament, and they will not have a majority in the Senate either. But they will be the largest single party in the Senate, and will have the right to chair Senate committees.

Last month, Harper suspended Parliament until early March, arguing the government needed time to come up with a plan to balance the budget after running up a huge deficit triggered by recession-busting spending.

Parliament will return on March 3 with a policy speech and then a new budget.

If all three opposition parties in the House of Commons vote against the budget, the government will fall and there will be a new election. Opposition parties have shown little inclination to bring down the government right now, although that could change if opinion polls continue to show a swing against the Conservatives.

Harper's suspension of Parliament has proved deeply unpopular with Canadian voters, and recent polls put the Conservatives neck and neck with the main opposition Liberals.

(Reporting by Janet Guttsman; editing by Rob Wilson)