Runciman on same page as Harper over Senate
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, January 30, 2010 3:07PM EST
TORONTO - Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have found his point man for Senate reform.
Bob Runciman -- a Tory whose legendary tirades in the Ontario legislature earned him the nickname "Mad Dog" -- could be the ideal candidate for the job, despite being one of Harper's newest unelected senators.
The 29-year political veteran from Brockville, Ont., has spent years lobbying for Senate elections in the province, even proposing a ban on sitting members of the legislature running for the Senate.
Accepting the kind of patronage appointment he'd railed against for so long didn't sit well, he acknowledged.
"I've had mixed feelings over it just the last couple of weeks when it was starting to sink in that it's actually going to happen," Runciman, 67, said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
"But I know that it's an opportunity that I have to accept, and it really gives me an opportunity to deal with issues that I otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to deal with."
That includes playing "an active role" in transforming the upper chamber, despite the objections of provinces like Quebec, as well as moving ahead with the Tories' justice bills, said Runciman.
An emissary from Ontario may come as a "pleasant surprise" to some western provinces that are considering Senate reform, and may even encourage them to take the final step, Runciman said.
"If more provinces start electing, it's going to put increased pressure on places like Ontario," he said. "The electorate will demand it."
The federal Tories are expected to bring in legislation that would set term limits of eight to 13 years. Senators can currently serve as long as 45 years.
No term limit was discussed as a condition of his appointment to the Senate, Runciman said.
Senate reform may be on Harper's agenda, but the former Ontario solicitor general will likely prove to be a valuable asset in pushing the Tories' law-and-order legislation through the chamber, experts predict.
Runciman, whose two daughters are both police officers, is known for being tough on crime, said David Docherty, a politics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
By proroguing Parliamant, the Conservatives can now reset the Senate committees and add Runciman to the group that will be looking at the justice bills, he said.
Runciman's appointment Friday came as little surprise to many party insiders and former opponents.
"I'm particularly interested in having a fellow proponent of the HST on Parliament Hill," quipped Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
"Bob's a longtime backer so it'll be great to have him in a position of influence there."
Runciman, who owns a weekly newspaper and printing business, once shared a cabinet table with John Baird, Tony Clement and Jim Flaherty under former premier Mike Harris -- a hero to the party's most devout conservatives.
A consummate retail politician whose hold in the eastern Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville has lasted nearly three decades, Runciman may also further Harper's dream of a majority by delivering a few rural seats in the next election.
While Runciman has always leaned to the right, he commands respect on from all sides, said former provincial party leader John Tory.
Tory, who resigned last spring after a rocky term at the party helm, relied on Runciman to lead the party in the legislature when he lost his seat in the 2007 provincial election.
Some party members turned their backs on him, but Runciman remained true, said Tory.
"I went through a very difficult circumstance where it was seemingly easy for some people to decide when it wasn't convenient for them anymore, to either abandon me or undermine me," he said.
"And Bob Runciman ... never did."
Had Runciman received the promotion a year ago when Harper appointed a record 18 senators, things might have been very different for the Ontario party, said Docherty, the politics professor.
"Had he been appointed perhaps in the last round, John Tory may well have still been the leader of the Conservative party," he said.
"I think it's kind of interesting that in delaying the appointment, the federal Conservatives have hurt the more moderate Mr. Tory and allowed Tim Hudak eventually to become leader."