August 27, 2009 / 6:10 PM / in 8 years

PM beefs up Conservative ranks in Senate

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed nine more Conservatives on Thursday to the Senate, Parliament’s upper house.

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper shakes hands with former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers (L) at Laval University in Quebec City August 27, 2009. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger</p>

The Conservative Party now has 46 of the 105 seats in the Senate, which is designed to act as a chamber of “sober second thought” to the elected House of Commons. The Liberal Party has 53 Senate seats.

“Until senators are elected, this government will ensure that we have in the Senate people who will work hard and will support the elected government of this country, and that includes passing our anti-crime legislation and passing our democratic reforms, which have been blocked in the Senate,” Harper told a news conference in Quebec City.

This is the second group of Senate appointments in less than a year by Harper, who had previously promised to appoint only elected candidates to the upper chamber.

There is no provision for separate senate elections but Harper has encouraged the provinces to conduct such votes, and promised to appoint the winners to the Senate. Only Alberta has so far held such elections.

The new appointees have agreed to support government legislation attempting to set eight-year Senate term limits. Constitutionally, they are allowed to stay until age 75.

Senators can change or block legislation, but any changes must be reaffirmed by the House of Commons. Traditionally they do not block crucial financial legislation.

One of the new senators is former National Hockey League coach Jacques Demers, a popular figure whose 2005 biography revealed he was functionally illiterate.

Among his other choices were three prominent Conservative Party insiders.

Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson

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