Tag Archives: The Senate

The Canadian Senate sends in its clowns

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The federal Conservative government’s point man in the Senate now hopes to preserve the “dignity and integrity” of the Red Chamber by forcing three of its members, who have not yet been charged with the crime of expense-fiddling, to take a long, unpaid hike off a short pier.

Senators Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau are, apparently, an affront to this august body, where near-lifetime tenures proceed at the pleasure of the sitting prime minister and regional “representation” is a function of Victorian-era definitions of residency.

Still, says Tory Senate leader Claude Carignan, off with their heads.

Hear, hear, agrees his Liberal counterpart James Cowan: Suspend the rascals and be quick about it.

“It’s not a Liberal, a Conservative or an Independent (thing),” Sen. Carignan told The Toronto Star last week. Referring to Sen. Duffy, he said, “(Here’s) a senator that . . . didn’t respect the dignity and the rules of the senate. . .It’s not a question of money. It’s a question of gross misconduct. . .It’s a very severe sanction but I think it’s appropriate.”

Added Sen. Cowan: “I certainly have no sympathy for those three senators who we found deliberately breached what were clear rules and were ordered to pay significant amounts of money back. We need to take disciplinary action. These were not simple mistakes, bookkeeping errors. There was, the Senate found, a deliberate attempt to abuse the rules.”

The accused and their legal eagles say exactly the opposite is true.

According to The Canadian Press this week, Sen. Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, “spent nearly an hour (on Monday) alleging how Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s staff and key Conservative senators developed a scheme to have Duffy take the fall for wrongdoing that even they agreed he had not committed.”

What’s more, the news wire reported, “Five allegations emerged from Monday’s event.” Among these: “Government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton allegedly told Duffy in a letter that residency is not clearly defined in the Senate’s rules. . .Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, allegedly told Duffy in an email last December that he had not broken any rules in relation to his housing expenses.”

Declared Bayne: “The whole political decision-making about this has been a fiasco. . .From the get-go, rather than letting the truth out, that there are flaws in the Senate system and rules, it’s the old story. The cover-up is always more damaging than the original issue.”

It’s hard to know who to watch, let alone whom to find credible, in this three-ring circus. One assumes that the serious deliberations the Senate is supposed to undertake as a large part of its official function are underway somewhere behind the curtain. But, it’s safe to say that “sober second-thinking” are not words most Canadians would associate with the Upper Chamber these days.

All of which leaves reform-minded parliamentarians in something of a quandary: How do they reconstitute the Senate and restore its reputation without appearing to admit that Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau are, in fact, victims, rather than opportunists. The rush to judge the individuals involved now seems calculated more to uphold the principle of honesty in public office untethered from the institutional context – a context that may well be so fundamentally flawed that technical breeches of the rules are, under even normal circumstances, almost inevitable.

Summary suspensions, at this point, are patently unjust. They are, naturally, politically expedient courses of action. But they won’t address what is, almost certainly, a much bigger problem in the Senate. It’s a problem to which Conservative Senator Hugh Segal alluded in an interview with CBC Nnews last week.

“The notion that we would move to a sentencing process, which this motion is. . .is just completely unfair and a violation of every principle of fairness,” he said. “Some folks think the best way to deal with these problems is to throw everybody under the bus. Well guess what? You’re going to run out of buses and you’re going to run out of people.”

Just so.

And so goes with it dignity and integrity.

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The lazy, crazy days of summer on the Hill

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Stephen Harper doesn’t strike me as a beach-combing, swimsuit-wearing type of guy. Nor do I imagine him to be much of a cracker-barreller, hanging around the local five-and-dime, good-naturedly swapping stories with the geriatric set. Someone told me he once wore a suit to a barbecue.

In fact, I have no idea how the esteemed prime minister prefers to spend his down time (does he have down time?), but the days of his annual furlough from Crazytown are rapidly running out. He’d better smoke ‘em while he’s got ‘em, for the fall legislative session promises to be. . .well, let’s just say, trying.

Goodbye Andrew MacDougall. We hardly knew ye. Then again, we hardly knew any of your predecessors, either. Seven directors of communications for the Prime Minister’s Office in seven years, in one door and out the other. That’s got to be some kind of record. For his part, Mr. MacDougall thanked his boss, thanked the media “for and interesting experience,” and praised his colleagues and staff for making him “look good”, especially when they weren’t screwing up.

Funny stuff. His acknowledged sense of whimsy will be sorely missed in Ottawa as he assumes his new responsibilities at a “strategic communications” firm in London, U.K., rescuing some other guy’s butt from the pyre of public opinion.

Really, though, does Fat City proffer a more thankless job than the one Mr. MacDougall leaves behind?

Just a moment; I believe it does.

The whereabouts of one Pamela Wallin are much on people’s minds these days. And by “whereabouts,” I mean her mode of conveyance across this vast land of ours. Is it a commercial flight from the nation’s Capitol to Toronto to Saskatchewan? Or is it the bus under which her Senate colleagues have thrown her?

Having already repaid $38,000 in improperly claimed travel expenses, Ms. Wallin must now pony up an additional $83,000. She says she’ll do it. But she’s not happy about it. Speaking to reporters in Ottawa this week, the embattled Senator had this to say about the independent audit of her spending by Deloitte:

“It is my view that this report is the result of a fundamentally flawed and unfair process. When appointed to the Senate in 2009, I was determined to be an activist Senator, one who saw it as her job to advance causes that are important to Canadians. When invited to appear publicly and speak on subjects including the role of women in public life, Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, and support for our troops, I saw it as my duty to accept whenever able to do so. Travel to these public speeches and appearances was, and is, in my continuing view, a legitimate Senate expense.

“However, in the Deloitte report, a number of expenses going back to 2009 that were submitted – and approved – by Senate Finance over a four year period have now been disallowed. Deloitte has wrongly, in my view and in the opinion of my lawyers, applied the 2012 changes made to the Senators’ Travel Policy retroactively. The result is that travel expenses, which were approved and paid by Senate Finance in 2009, 2010 and 2011 have, in a number of cases, been disallowed.”

Still, she added, “While I have serious concerns about the fairness of this process, I do not want to further burden the people of Saskatchewan, the Canadian public, or my Senate colleagues any more with this matter. . .I will pay back the full amount ordered by the Committee, including interest, once the final figure is given to me, and I will do so from my own resources.”

None of which prevents her confreres in the Red Chamber from clucking their pious disapprovals, even as some might frantically check their own records for evidence of unintended malfeasance. All of which raises a fresh batch of questions about an institution that can’t, for the ossified life of it, figure out how to regulate itself.

Over at the PMO, which Mr. Harper must re-embrace all too soon, the message remains crystal clear. As Mr. MacDougall told The Globe and Mail this week, “Our government will not tolerate the waste and abuse of taxpayer money. We expect that any inappropriate expenses will be repaid.”

It was, perhaps, his swan song, the title of which reads: “I’m outta’ here, and not a moment too soon.”

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