Tag Archives: Senate of Canada

Waiting for the end times in an Ottawa strip club

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Tomorrow is an auspicious day on the calendar for humanity, even for denizens of Fat City (a.k.a. Ottawa), for February 22nd is when the world literally goes straight to hell.

Or as the Daily Mail reports, “The wolf Fenrir is predicted to break out of his prison, the snake Jormungand will rise out of the sea and the dragon of the underworld will resurface on Earth to face the dead heroes of Valhalla – who, of course, have descended from heaven to fight them.”

Well, after all, why not? The Mayan apocalypse proved to be a big fat nothing last year, and we’re certainly overdue. Here, according to RationalWiki.org are a few other calamities, predicted but not (yet) delivered:

In March 2003, U.S. president George W. Bush “claimed that Operation Iraqi Freedom was necessary ‘to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse.’ (Plan no longer in progress.)”

In 2008, American vice-presidential candidate Sarah “Mama Grizzly” Palin said she believed belong to the “Final Generation” who will “see the End Times during her lifetime. Thankfully, over 9 million Americans disagreed.”

That same year, the Large Hadron Collidor was supposed to produce a black hole that would swallow the planet in one gulp. Yeah. . .still waiting.

Under the circumstances, then, we might give the Vikings a crack at starting the world over. Says the Mail, “Ragnarok is a series of events including the final predicted battle that results in the death of a number of major gods, the occurrence of various natural disasters and the subsequent submersion of the world in water.”

In fact, “legend has it the sound of the horn will call the sons of the god Odin and the heroes to the battlefield, before Odin and other ‘creator gods’ will be killed by Fenrir.”

Spookily, the Norse “believe the Ragnarok is preceded by the ‘winter of winters’, where three freezing winters would follow each other with no summers in between.” Meanwhile, “all morality would disappear and fights would break out all over the world, signaling the beginning of the end.”

Now, that’s sounding almost familiar, and for reasons I can’t quite quantify, the Barefax Gentlemen’s Club suddenly springs to mind.

That’s the Ottawa nudie bar and strip joint where suspended Canadian Senator Patrick Brazeau now works as a day manager. Carmelina Bentivoglio, the daughter of the establishment’s owner, told the Toronto Star that the former Conservative appointee to the Upper Chamber aced his job interview a couple of weeks ago and now he’ll be spending his time,“scheduling, hiring, firing, inventory – just like any other job.”

Well, not quite like any other job. It’s nothing like the job he had at the Senate before he was suspended in November for allegedly bilking taxpayers for expenses to which he was not entitled. Even before his ouster, Red Chamber officials had dunned him nearly $50,000 to recover at least some of his seemingly ill-gotten booty.

Then came the cops who, earlier this month, charged both Mr. Brazeau and his former senatorial colleague Mac Harb with fraud and breach of trust. According to an item in the Star, “The Mounties allege that Brazeau fraudulently claimed his father’s home in Maniwaki, Que., as his primary residence, although he was rarely seen there and lived primarily just across the river from Ottawa in Gatineau, Que.”

The Star also reported that media scuttlebutt indicates that “Brazeau and his estranged wife have been missing mortgage and loan payments and may now face losing their house in Gatineau. . .The disgraced senator is also facing charges of assault and sexual assault as a result of an incident last February.”

Still, apparently he’s not letting any that get him down. A nice piece by veteran CBC political correspondent Rosemary Barton, posted to Mother Corp.’s website, finds the disgraced politico in a philosophical frame of mind.

“Brazeau says he’s doing OK,” she writes. “His health is better, he’s learning the ropes on his second day. He doesn’t seem thrilled with his new job, but neither is he embarrassed. ‘It is what it is,’ Brazeau says, ‘I’ve got four mouths to feed,’ referring to his children. I ask how people are treating him so far. ‘Better than at my old job,’ he quips.”

Yes, indeed. Just another wintry day in Fat City before the world finally goes straight to hell.

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The Red Chamber’s not so red anymore

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In question period on Wednesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau needn’t have uttered a word; the self-satisfied and supremely amused look on his face spoke volumes. It was the sort of expression one adopts when one has eaten somebody else’s lunch and gotten away with it.

The lunch, in this case, was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s who has been dancing around the complex and thorny issue of Senate reform for years; one tends to forget that overhauling the Red Chamber, making it more representative and democratic, was a signature plank in the Tory leader’s campaign for federal office.

But it was Mr. Trudeau who pounced, instead.

“As of this morning,” he said in a statement, “only elected Members of the House of Commons will serve as members of the Liberal Caucus. The 32 formerly Liberal Senators are now independent of the national Liberal Caucus. They are no longer part of our parliamentary team. . . .Let me be clear, the only way to be a part of the Liberal caucus is to be put there by the voters of Canada.”

Furthermore, he said, “I challenge the Prime Minster to match this action. As the majority party in the Senate, immediate and comprehensive change is in Conservative hands. I’m calling on the Prime Minister to do the right thing. To join us in making Senators independent of political parties and end partisanship in the Senate.”

Later, speaking with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, he said his timing had nothing to do with an auditor-general’s investigation of Senate expenses, which could embarrass some federal Liberals, calling that a “separate problem from the excessive partisanship and patronage. . .which is what I have moved to eliminate today. . . It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.”

All of which left Ottawa reeling, including Grit senators.

“We are the Senate Liberal caucus and I will remain the leader of the opposition and we will remain the official opposition in the Senate,” the former Liberal Leader of the  Senate James Cowan said.

“I’m still and Liberal senator, not an independent,” Senator Mobina Jaffer piped up. “I’ve always been a Liberal.”

Meanwhile New Brunswick Senator Pierrette Ringuette called the move surprising, but not shocking, and a “giant step in the right direction. . .If we want to reform the Senate, senators need to be independent of groups and parties, and that’s what the leader has done today.”

In fact, with this move, the leader has done quite a few things.

For one, he’s grabbed the initiative and stamped the future of Senate reform with the Liberal brand. Even if the momentum shifts back to the Tories, they can never again claim that they lead the charge.

Paul Poilievre, the Minister for Democratic Reform, questions the wisdom of freeing unelected senators from the influence and control of elected Members of Parliament (specifically, the prime minister and opposition leaders).That, however, is a point of process; how, exactly, the selection process will work is not yet clear.

What is clear is widespread, even overwhelming, public support for dramatic Senate reform, without which most Canadians would rather bid the institution a long overdue fare-thee-well.

Mr. Trudeau’s initiative, they will say, may not be perfect. In the long run, it may not even be workable. But at least he’s doing something. And that, alone, stands him head and shoulders above the rest on the Hill.

The move has also upended the Prime Minister’s Office’s strategy of keeping the Senate, with all of its attendant scandals, out of the news as much as possible. According to polls, the Mike Duffy-Nigel Wright affair has seriously damaged the government’s credibility.

“What the Liberal Party doesn’t understand is that Canadians are not looking for a better unelected Senate,” Mr. Harper told the House of Commons.  “Canadians believe that for the Senate to be meaningful in the 21st century it must be elected. . .I gather the change announced by the Liberal Leader today is that unelected Liberal senators will become unelected senators who happen to be Liberal.”

It was a good line. It’s too bad lunch was over when he delivered it.

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Seeking sanity on Senate shenanigans

As the ranks of auditors scurrying up and down Parliament Hill continue to swell, the Senate expense debacle is beginning to resemble a poorly written episode of a prime-time police procedural. Call it: CSI Ottawa.

First, there was the review board of the Upper Chamber’s internal economy committee. Then came the Senate Ethics Office, followed by the country’s Ethics Commissioner, followed by the RCMP.

Now, the Conservative Leader of the appointed body, Marjory LeBreton, wants Auditor General Michael Ferguson to conduct what she calls a “comprehensive” investigation of all expenses she and her compatriots have incurred and claimed over the past few months, possibly years.

Good idea, says Senate Opposition Leader James Cowan (a Liberal from Halifax), but why stop there? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, if the gander happens to be the perpetually honking House of Commons.

Or, as he told CBC News last week, “Is this just another attempt to change the channel here? The problem isn’t the rules and policies. The problem is in the people who want to scam the system.”

Mounting evidence suggests that a sizable chunk of his fellow citizens concurs.

A CTV News Ipsos Reid poll, conducted late last month, found the personal accountability – not byzantine or antiquated regulations – is the real issue among the great unwashed of this country. That’s bad news for Sen. Mike Duffy, who used a personal gift of $90,000 from the PMO’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, to bay back what he owed. And it’s bad news for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, himself.

According to the survey, only 13 per cent of citizens firmly believed Mr. Harper’s contention that he did not know about the donation at the time it was made. Forty-two per cent were certain he was in the loop. Forty-four per cent weren’t sure.

The poll also found most Canadians clamoring for an independent investigation led by either the RCMP or a jurist (shades of the Gomery Inquiry, which sealed the fate of the once-mighty Liberal hegemony begin to haunt).

If such an inquiry should uncover expense gerrymandering, either deliberate or unintentional, 77 per cent thought those involved should relinquish their Senatorial offices forthwith.

As for the fate of the Red Chamber, itself, a convincing 88 per cent were, more or less, evenly divided: 45 per cent said it should be reformed; 43 per cent said it should be abolished. A marginal 13 per cent voted for the status quo.

There’s no reason to question the validity of these findings, which is why there is every reason to, as Ms. LeBreton suggests, enlist the unimpeachable authority of the Auditor-General’s office (and no others) to get to the bottom of this, and more.

Open wide all the books. Shed a torchlight into every nook and cranny of this increasingly dubious institution. Then, when done, cast a critical eye at the Commons. How are Canada’s elected representatives handling their responsibilities to taxpayers? Shouldn’t “reform” be an equal opportunity exigency in the nation’s public realm?

Before there can be true accountability, there must be clarity. When Canadians know the dimensions of the problems that afflict their most important democratic instruments, they will be equipped to demand the changes that are necessary to safeguard their trust in the political system.

“When I say a comprehensive audit of all Senate expenses, I mean just that,” Ms. LeBreton insisted on CTV’s Power Play earlier this week. “Every tax payer dollar that’s spent to the functioning of the Senate all of it. . .The public saw the Senate as a closed club, investigating itself. I came to realize that we really had to respect what the public was saying and turn it over to a body that is absolutely, without question, has a lot integrity and a lot credibility and actually assure the public that we are serious about tax payer dollars.”

It’s time the Senate’s Keystone Kops make room for CSI’s Horatio Caine.

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Foaming at the mouth over lickspittles

Poor Ms. Maj. Her eyes are shut wide open

Poor Ms. Maj. Her eyes are shut wide open

It is rare that a member of the Senate of Canada affords so exquisite an opportunity to drink deeply the rich elixir that is the English language. So let us compliment Marjory LeBreton, the federal Government’s chief representative in the Upper Chamber, for her recent, and truly marvelous, display of verbal pyrotechnics.

To be perfectly clear, here’s exactly what she said in a speech last week: “We moved at the first opportunity to make the Senate more open, accountable and transparent. It was determined from September 2010 onward, Senators expenses would be publicly reported on a quarterly basis. Had that not taken place – no one would have been any the wiser. Things would have carried on in the old Liberal way –nudge, nudge, wink, wink!”

Indeed, she said, “The reality. . .is that we are facing this crisis because we flung open the door and revealed what was going on and now rather than being credited for doing so, we are paying the price for taking this important and necessary step.”

Alas, she added, “I am not surprised. I am a Conservative and I know more than most that around this town, populated by Liberal elites and their media lickspittles, tut-tutting about our government and yearning for the good old days, that we are never given the benefit of doubt and are rarely given credit for all the good work that we do.”

Lickspittle. What a most excellent word; a true mouthful of antiquated bile and embalmed moral authority.

“A useful functionary, not infrequently found editing a newspaper,” is how the 19th century American writer Ambroise Bierce defined the “lickspittle” in his masterwork of humour, The Devil’s Dictionary. Such a cad, he wrote, “is closely allied to the blackmailer by the tie of occasional identity; for in truth the lickspittle is only the blackmailer under another aspect, although the latter is frequently found as an independent species. Lickspittling is more detestable than blackmailing, precisely as the business of a confidence man is more detestable than that of a highway robber; and the parallel maintains itself throughout, for whereas few robbers will cheat, every sneak will plunder if he dare.”

Modern definitions, found in online dictionaries, include, “a fawning underling; a toady; a flattering or servile person” and “a contemptible person.”

Lickspittle’s closest synonym is, perhaps, “sycophant” from the Latin “sycophanta”. According to a Wiktionary entry it denotes “one who uses compliments  to gain self-serving favor or advantage from another; one who seeks to gain through the powerful and influential.” A lickspittle, therefore, is also an “ass-kisser, brown-noser, suck-up, yes man, parasite, flunky” or “lackey.”

Sadly, this detestable creature can be found in nearly all walks of life, doing the  loathsome bidding of their profane superiors in every country of the world. During the Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, you could have papered the walls of the Oval Office with them. These days, you can observe them at the IRS, targeting conservative groups seeking tax exemptions.

And while Ms. LeBreton may be justified in vilifying the “media lickspittles” in her midst, sometimes it works the other way around.

“The president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press. . .called the government’s secret seizure of two months of reporters’ phone records unconstitutional,” The Washington Times reported earlier this month. Gary Pruitt. . .said the move already has had a chilling effect on journalism. (He) told CBS’ ‘Face the Nation’ that the government has no business monitoring the AP’s newsgathering activities. ‘If they restrict that apparatus. . .the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know, and that’s not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment,’ he said.”

In fact, about the only institution, public or private, that remains utterly devoid of lickspittles is a certain branch of the Canadian Parliament, where 105 unelected members, appointed by the Governor General on the “advice” of the prime minister exercise only the soundest judgement, free of influence, in the lofty interest of the citizens they represent.

Isn’t that true, Ms. LeBreton? What, pray tell, is your word for them?

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Driven by their distractions

The political process as we know it in Canada

The political process as we know it in Canada

Political commentators are, as a rule, enormously fond of the sound of their own voices, especially when handed the opportunity to contextualize a galloping controversy. I should know. I can’t count the number of times I’ve used the word “distraction” to describe some office holder’s goof-up.

But, I’m beginning to think we who observe-cum-scribble for a living are coming perilously close to spraining our backs for all the bending over we do in our attempt to perceive the bigger pictures in public life.

Yesterday, my esteemed colleague Jeffrey Simpson, the Globe and Mail’s national affairs columnist, deployed the word, “distraction” twice in one paragraph. “For a government already adrift at midterm, the Nigel Wright-Mike Duffy affair, coupled with the resignation from caucus of another Conservative senator, Pamela Wallin, represents an unwelcome distraction,” he wrote. “It’s doubtful that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech to his caucus on Tuesday – in which he declared himself ‘very upset‘ – will quickly end the distraction.”

In this, he may only have parroted Mr. Duffy, himself, who had characterized his contretemps as a “significant distraction” to his Tory caucus colleagues, before resigning to sit as an Independent.

Still, I’m left wondering: From what, exactly, is all this stuff a distraction? A good government? A sound economy? A functioning Senate? A ribbon-cutting ceremony somewhere near Nowhereville, New Brunswick?

Why can’t we see Senategate for what it is? To wit: A damn good news story that cuts to the heart of democracy in Canada, demanding all the remorseless attention to detail for which the Cosa Nostra of our craft is famous.

I might pose the same question to members of Hog Town’s Ford Nation whenever they cluck disapprovingly at the Toronto Star’s coverage of their man, Mayor Rob, whose talent for landing himself in hot water is downright promethean.

How the burgermeister of Canada’s biggest city manages to survive his days and nights at the cutting edge of contention is one of the great mysteries of the modern age. But survive he does, despite headlines that would reduce most in his position to a quivering pool of gelatin.

“Five days after two media outlets published reports on a video that appears to show him smoking crack cocaine, Mayor Rob Ford again offered no explanation on Tuesday,” thestar.com reported this week. “He did not say whether he has smoked crack while in office. He did not say whether he used an anti-gay slur. Despite an expression of concern from the premier and renewed pleas from council allies, he did not say anything at all.”

Meanwhile, American late-night TV was having a ball at hizzoner’s expense. “Both Jimmy Kimmel and The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart discussed the controversy at the tops of their shows,” thestar.com observed. “Jay Leno also mentioned Ford on Monday’s Tonight Show, joking that if the allegations are true, he’d still be qualified to be the mayor of Washington, D.C.”

In her commentary, Star columnist Heather Mallick noted, “There have been 42 low points in Ford’s mayoralty. . .from sexist and racist slurs, to drunken arguments in public, to a chaotic home life, to repeated court hearings on alleged financial wrongdoing, to, oh dozens more, a relentless sordid drip. I’m worried that unless he resigns, he’s going to punch a baby in the face or run himself over. I’m waiting for spontaneous Ford combustion, right there on the sidewalk.”

None of this, it’s safe to say, is a “distraction” from the business of running a major metropolitan area. In fact, in a palpable sense, it is the business of running a major metropolitan area. At least, it is lately.

The comportment of one’s mayor – or Senator – speaks volumes about the condition of one’s public institutions. It also points a fat finger at the electorate who, either directly or indirectly, play a role in selecting those for high public office.

By suggesting otherwise, well. . .the only thing from which we distract ourselves is the truth of our frequently flawed systems of government.

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The Red-faced Chamber needs reform

They’ve been falling like pins on a bowling lane – not one after another, but all at once, concussed by the sheer force of the public opprobrium against them. First Messrs. Brazeau and Harb, then Mr. Duffy and, finally, Ms. Wallin. May is the month of their reckoning and, at some basic level, of the Canadian Senate itself.

Expense claims make superb political scandals. Who doesn’t believe that public officials are always just one chit away from defrauding the noble, long-suffering taxpayer? Who doesn’t suspect that for every misdeed uncovered in the nation’s chambers of power, dozens more go undetected?

The burden of reality, though, is complexity. Nothing in Ottawa is ever as it seems, and while the tangled webs Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mac Harb, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin have spun for themselves seem identical, they are not.

Last week, Mr. Brazeau told CBC Radio’s “The House” that he received prior, written approval from the Senate to rack up nearly $50,000 in living costs, a sum which that august body demands he return. His colleague, Mr. Harb, is on the hook for $100,000, a claim he has hired a lawyer to defend.

Meanwhile, Ms. Wallin has quit the Conservative caucus and has no intention of returning until an external reviewer finishes examining $320,000 in travel expenses she has incurred since 2010. In a statement, she said, “Given that (the audit process) continues, I have decided to recuse myself. . .and I will have no further comment” until, presumably, she is either cleared or found culpably responsible for the tab.

And then there is Mr. Duffy – poor, dear Mr. Duffy. He is paying a heavy premium in the court of public opinion for the $90,000 gift he received from the prime minister’s (now former) chief of staff to cover his expense debt to the Senate. The move has both baffled and outraged Canadians, who complain, with some justification, that a member of the Upper Chamber ought to pay his own bills, just like anybody else.

In fact, it’s the variety of these alleged lapses in judgement (as much as their concurrence) that speak most convincingly to the real problem an increasing number of Canadians perceive about the Senate: its institutional ossification.

Here is a body so unfamiliar with the concepts of accountability and transparency that it has no way to influence the comportment of its members without erecting what amounts to a police dragnet.

This observation lets no individual off the hook; nor should it. Mr. Duffy’s behavior  (or what we know of it) seems particularly egregious. Amid the thunder and lightening of popular outrage, no one has yet seen fit to point out that ethical wounds cannot always be healed by legal triage. Notwithstanding the generosity of a friend lately in a high place, the $90,000 Mr. Duffy improperly billed the Senate is still his burden to bear until he, alone, assumes responsibility for the debt. Otherwise, he skates free to spend his unencumbered net worth on whatever he likes. In whose conception of plain dealing is this even remotely fair?

Still, the larger issue is the Senate, itself – a 19th century institution purportedly doing 21st century work. Its members serve at the pleasure of those who appointed them, not always in the interests of the electorate or even the regions they are, by convention, supposed to represent. Its rules of residency are baroque. Its internal review procedures are inconsistent and oftentimes incomprehensible.

It is possible to remove a senator, but as a CTV report noted in February, it isn’t easy. Quoting from the Constitution Act, the news source identified five reasons for turfing a member, including: “If he is adjudged Bankrupt or Insolvent, or applies for the Benefit of any Law relating to Insolvent Debtors, or becomes a public Defaulter.”

Bankruptcy? Really?

All of which only guarantees that the inarguably good work the Senate performs (despite itself) remains shackled both to its fossilized past and current scandals.

There can be only one, sensible reckoning for Canada’s Upper Chamber: reform.

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