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.”
And so goes with it dignity and integrity.