Tag Archives: Auditor-General Michael Ferguson

A riddle wrapped in an enigma

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If you wanted to rope well-intentioned men and women of a certain age and social standing into a club that professes no rules of conduct, apart from those it designates for itself, you might start with the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, or the clown school just up the alley.

In a pinch, though, you can always check in on the Senate of Canada, where fully 25 per cent of its sitting and retried members have been (politely) asked to return money they allegedly spent illegitimately. A few have even been (again, politely) asked to chat with the RCMP over their various chits.

So, at least, entreats Auditor-General of Canada Michael Ferguson. (Who says a good, old New Brunswicker can’t ever get his revenge on the centre of the universe, what?)

The dear man concludes the following:

“We found a lack of independent oversight in the way Senators’ expenses are governed. As a group, Senators are responsible for governing themselves and how the Senate functions. They design their own rules, choose whether to enforce those rules, and determine what, if any, information will be publicly disclosed. The Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration (Internal Economy Committee) is responsible for ensuring that the Senate’s resources are managed appropriately and that its assets are protected. However, the Committee is made up of Senators who also claim expenses as individual Senators.”

What’s more, Ferguson points out, “Under the Parliament of Canada Act, the Internal Economy Committee has exclusive authority to act on, and has full discretion over, all of the Senate’s financial and administrative matters, including those of individual Senators, and its premises, services, and staff. The Committee, among other things, reviews and authorizes budgets of the Senate Administration and Senate committees, and sets policies and guidelines on items such as Senators’ travel and research expenditures.”

Still, with all due respect to Mr. Ferguson, isn’t this about the lowest-hanging fruit an A-G can swing a stick at in this absurdly rooked democracy of ours? The Senate plays in its own sandbox; alert the media.

How about the actual House of Commons? Now there’s a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, just begging for a few arch questions.

Why, for one thing, is so much parliamentary committee work so much window dressing? How, for another thing, do omnibus bills – covering everything from marijuana laws to oil sands subsidies – sail through without even an inkling of sober, second thought?

Oh, right, that’s the constitutional obligation of the Senate of Canada, many of whose members have been castigated (and, possibly, under indictment) for following rules of conduct they were explicitly told were legal and ethical.

As long as they are kept busy defending themselves against a system that seems almost Machiavellian in its facility for misdirection, there’s no need to worry about little things like fairness and justice for all.

Yet, the business of the Senate is the conscience of the nation. This is where rending issues of First Nations, violence against women, child poverty, environmental degradation, and climate change find their best, most attentive audiences.

Auditor-General Ferguson is perfectly right to recommend that the Upper Chamber submits itself to routine, external reviews; that it revises its codes of conduct both within and without its august body.

Still, if we want to unwrap an enigma with a real answer, we must stop regarding the Senate of Canada as if it were a secret society of well-intentioned men and women of a certain age and social standing who, quite literally, haven’t a clue about the perils of membership.

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How Veterans Affairs fails Canada’s heroes

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For a government that applauds its military’s service and prowess, lauds its warriors’ nearly mythological battlefield achievements and routinely augments its own fat-bellied, peacetime ambitions with the hard sinew and patriotic service of its men and women in arms, Harpertown has a strange way of displaying its appreciation to its avowed friends.

Some truly intrepid, hard-slogging reporting by Murray Brewster of The Canadian Press paints a tale of stunning incompetence at Veterans Affairs of late – a record that does not evidently stem from, as the Prime Minister’s Office wishes it might, the bureaucracy, but from the political office, itself.

As Mr. Brewster reported on December 11, “The inability of Veterans Affairs to spend $1.13 billion over the last eight years should have come as no surprise to the Harper government, which was warned two years ago that the department was struggling to forecast the needs of its clients.”

That might have had something to do with the fact that this government’s widely publicized exercise in public-sector pilates since 2008 (18.5 per cent staff cuts across the board or go home and cry into your mama’s pea soup) has effectively eliminated 900 full-time positions at Vets.

Still, Mr. Brewster relies on an unimpeachable source for his conclusions: Auditor-General of Canada Michael Ferguson’s report on the subject in 2012.

“Buried deep in. . .(this) report,” the reporter states, “was a warning that Veterans Affairs was producing inaccurate forecasts of future client needs that were based on historic data, rather than current information. The same report also took aim at the case management and referral system for operational stress injury clinics, which was the focus of (November’s) much-hyped $200-million overhaul.”

Predictably and nastily, the Harper government has chosen to defend itself by laking the low road.

As Mr. Brewster reports, a class-action lawsuit in British Columbia brought against the federal government for its ham-handed implementation of a veterans charter it has endorsed since 2005 (when the former Liberal government of Paul Martin first flew it up the flag pole) met with this spicy bit of disingenuity from Mr. Harper, himself, earlier this month:

“It (the legal action) is actually a court case against the previous Liberal policy. . .In any case, we have repeatedly enhanced the benefits under that policy to the tune f $5 billion, opposed every step of the way by the Liberal party, who has voted against all those benefits. They can keep voting against those benefits for veterans. We will keep bringing them forward.”

And what do Canada’s actual servicemen and women believe? That entirely depends on whom you ask, but if you ask the Canada Coalition for Veterans, they’ll have this to say: Fire Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino immediately, and, next fall, kick the Tory bums out of office.

According to a CBC report last month, “A group of angry veterans, who want the Harper government defeated in the next election, is appealing to serving members of the military to join them in protest. Ron Clarke, a member of Canada Coalition for Veterans who has been campaigning against the closure of Veterans Affairs offices, made the appeal Wednesday during a Parliament Hill news conference. It may put those in uniform in an awkward position, but Clarke says they need a government sensitive to veterans and their needs. ‘We need a government that looks after our veterans,’ he said.

“The plea is just the latest move in what is a major rift in the veterans community, one that has the potential of undermining the coalition’s aim of galvanizing votes against the Conservatives. Last week, a group of outspoken veterans advocates announced that six organizations had formed a coalition that would, at a minimum, boycott government announcements and photo-ops.”

All of which has cast the worst possible light on a government that has clearly failed to fulfill its responsibilities to thousands of discharged soldiers, untold numbers of whom continue to suffer from untreated physical and mental battlefield injuries.

Indeed, with friends like this, who needs enemies.

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