OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed 18 Conservatives to Canada’s unelected Senate on Monday, a move that broke his longstanding promise not to name additional members to the upper chamber of Parliament until it is transformed into an elected body.
Opposition parties had in recent weeks challenged the appropriateness of Mr. Harper’s making appointments to the Senate after he suspended Parliament to avoid a near-certain defeat in a no-confidence vote.
Though that vote will take place after a new session begins in late January, opposition members contend that Mr. Harper no longer has the confidence of Parliament. His Conservative Party does not hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons.
The announcement of the Senate appointments was unusually low-key and came after many Canadians had already begun taking time off for Christmas and New Year’s Day. Mr. Harper said in a statement that he had made them to ensure that the Senate seats are not filled by the opposition parties should they defeat his government and take power in the new year.
“While I look forward to welcoming elected senators to the upper chamber in the future, these current vacancies must be filled in order for the Senate to transact legitimate government business,” he said in the statement. “If the opposition parties do not approve of these Senate appointments, they should stop obstructing our attempts to introduce meaningful Senate reform.”
Mr. Harper made no public appearance on Monday.
Michael Ignatieff, the new leader of the Liberal Party, criticized Mr. Harper’s action. “Mr. Harper has said repeatedly that he would never appoint senators, including during the last election,” Mr. Ignatieff said in a statement. “Canadians cannot understand why he keeps breaking his word.”
Mr. Ignatieff, who is also leader of the coalition of opposition parties, added, “Appointing senators when he lacks a mandate from Parliament is not acceptable.”
No prime minister has ever appointed as many senators on a single day.
While the Senate can try to amend or reject bills passed by the House of Commons, the Senate’s actions can ultimately be overridden by the House of Commons. Senators hold their seats until the age of 75.
Senators earn generous salaries and expense allowances, but their work ethic is frequently criticized. A columnist in The Globe and Mail described Senate appointments on Monday as being a “taskless thanks.”
The latest appointees include two broadcast journalists, as well as a former Olympic downhill skiing star, Nancy Greene Raine. The other new senators include Conservative Party fund-raisers and Conservatives who ran unsuccessfully for the House of Commons.
The new senators have agreed to step down and run for election if the Senate is turned into an elective body. But Kory Teneycke, Mr. Harper’s spokesman, confirmed that they are not legally bound to that promise.
“They are appointed under the rules as they exist today,” he wrote in an e-mail message.