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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