Tag Archives: Mike Duffy

Our dwindling democracy


Some who reside in the Greater Moncton area don’t give a chocolate-coated fiddlehead about the Mike Duffy affair.

According to one straw poll I conducted by cell phone between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a recent Saturday afternoon, as I careened out of town for a weekend of fun in the sun at an undisclosed Maritime location, which is, I hasten to add, not my primary residence.

I should also say that the five people I interviewed comprise a statistically meaningful sample of Canada’s voting public exactly zero times out of 20, with a plus-or-minus margin of error of precisely 100 per cent (in other words, about average for national pollsters in recent elections).

I posed only one question, providing survey respondents with the opportunity to rank their five main issues from one to five, in descending order:

“What would you say is your most pressing concern in this absurdly long, already tedious, election cycle? Is it (a) Duffygate; (b) unemployment; (c) the economy; (d) global warming and Canada’s reaction to it; and (e) the weapons-grade stupidity evinced by all but the tiniest fraction of politicians of every stripe in the soon-to-be-again Great White North?”

The results were compelling, if not especially unexpected.

All five respondents declared unequivocally that political stupidity was their most urgent worry. Comments ranged in tone and perspicuity from, “I hate them, I hate them, I hate them. . .did I mention that I hate them?” to, “you know, it’s probably not their (politicians’) fault; inbreeding causes a lot of problems elsewhere in society too.”

Coming in a close second was the economy. One respondent observed: “So, here we have in the Harper government a regime that once insisted the best thing it could do was to stay out of the private sector’s way, and yet it now runs on a platform extolling the virtues of its economic hegemony.”

Third on the hit parade of grievances was unemployment – or rather, underemployment. “I came to this province on the promise of green fields of opportunity,” said one interviewee. “I figured my advanced degree would make me a fine candidate for good-paid work in New Brunswick. Now, I drive a cab in Moncton.”

Fourth was global warming.

Assorted remarks included: “I went to a beach in New Brunswick and I almost froze my feet off”, “I went to a beach in New Brunswick and I almost had heat stroke”, “Oh. . .wait, I think I see an asteroid about to destroy all of us. . .Funny how it looks just like Mike Duffy.”

In Ottawa, far away from what matters to most people down here, the Senate moils and roils to reclaim its significance, the trials of important others proceed apace.

The world here now begins with irrelevance, marches towards false gravitas and ends in self-importance. The regions of this country do not matter; neither do the cities or towns we call home. And the Mike Duffy affair, which should concern us, simply doesn’t rise to the occasion.

We are, all of us, victims of our own distractions, our own obsessions, our own grievances. There is almost nothing left in the collective piggy bank of charity, forgiveness and grace; nothing with which to rebuild the world we so recently broke.

But should we, in our minds, with our hands and hearts so easily abandon the struggle to understand what goes horribly wrong in the National Capital Region?

To our abiding shame, we have begun to care nothing about the condition of our own democracy, with a margin of error of exactly zero.

Tagged , , ,

The curious case of Mike Duffy and the 31 counts


The gorilla in the Senate is biding his time

The gorilla in the Senate is biding his time

And then there was one.

Like pins on a bowling alley, they’re toppling: Retired Liberal Senator Mac Harb, Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, and now that most tele-charismatic of them all, Tory Senator Mike Duffy who, last week, learned that the RCMP had charged him with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Only Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin (suspended like her colleagues, Messrs. Brazeau and Duffy) remains under police investigation for alleged fiduciary misdeeds.

But it is on Mr. Duffy that all eyes are focussed. That’s because it is thanks to Mr. Duffy that a government could fall and the edifice of the Conservative Party of Canada could crumble. 

If either of those scenarios play out over the next several months, it would make history; marking the first time a journalist (former or active) in this country played a role anything more substantial than gadfly to established power. And you can just bet he’s itching to scratch that substantial epidermis.

“The court process will allow Canadians to hear all of the facts,” he told reporters outside his home in Kensington, P.E.I., on the weekend. “They will then understand that I have not violated the Criminal Code.”

Looking almost relaxed for a man who has had two heart surgeries since his fat hit the flames several moons ago – when news erupted that he may have run afoul of Senate residency rules, expense protocols and the acceptable limit and circumstances for receiving. . .um. . .“donations” from “friends” to settle his debts to the Upper Chamber – Mr. Duffy promised to say nothing more to the media whilst his case is before the judicial system. 

Still, he intimated, his day in court promises to be a day of reckoning for everyone who ever thought of crossing him. His message to The Centre: “I’m coming for you.”

It’s not an idle threat. 

Legal experts wonder whether federal prosecutors can prove that the $90,000 “gift” to Mr. Duffy, from former Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Nigel Wright to settle his account for improper senatorial spending, does, in fact, amount to receiving a bribe. After all, how can the recipient be charged if the ‘gifter’ gets off Scot free? To date, the RCMP has refused to charge Mr. Wright with any wrongdoing.

In a Canadian Press story, Queen’s University law professor Don Stuart put it this way:

“It seems unclear what the courts have made of the word corruption (in the relevant statute). Normally speaking you don’t have to prove a motive, but in (the Duffy) case you might have to, because of the use of the word corruption. . .They (the prosecution) will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his (Mr. Duffy’s) intention was a corrupt intention.”

But, then, that would amount to blackmail. And, by all accounts so far, that word does not appear in any of the indictments against the suspended senator. 

At this point, a multitude of questions become salient. 

If Mr. Wright, with all the best intentions (though possibly career-ending poor judgement), merely wanted to settle the matter of Mr. Duffy’s expenses privately without further burdening taxpayers, is it possible that certain government operatives, unbeknownst to Mr. Wright, appended a coercive codicil to the deal that required Mr. Duffy to extend, in return for the booty, certain favours to his political masters or, alternatively, instruct him to keep his mouth shut about certain, past wrongdoings of which all were intimately familiar?

Again, would that amount to bribery or blackmail?

Naturally, it’s all speculation. Still. . .

“If the matter goes to full trial and potentially involves the sitting prime minister of the country in connection with matters of the Senate, we will see a mix of politics and law that will be one of the outstanding trials in our history,” Rob Walsh, former law clerk to Parliament, told the Toronto Star’s Tim Harper. “If it comes to that.” 

Anyway you cut it, that’s bad news for the current government. It hardly matters when Mr. Duffy’s trial embarks. The scandal has already tainted the Tory regime and the Senate, where further investigations of other standing members are, we are told, underway.

And then there were none.


Tagged , ,

Still life in the old chamber

August bodies in abeyance

August bodies in abeyance

The Senate, many Canadians seem to believe, is entitled, corrupt and well past its best before date. And given the roiling expense scandals now underway, who can really blame them?

“One could say it’s a great soap opera,” Marilyn Trenholm Counsell, a former senator, herself, told CBC Radio’s New Brunswick rolling home show last week. “Of course, it isn’t a soap opera. It’s real and it’s hurtful.”

She’s right, of course.

Deriding the Upper Chamber has become everyone’s favorite parlor game. “On a daily basis evidence piles up that reveals our upper house to be neither useful nor necessary. An incessant string of scandals and disgraceful behaviour by senators has turned the red chamber into a national embarrassment,” Macleans magazine opined earlier this year. “Its functionality has been eroded to nothing with little prospect for change, despite claims from the Harper government to champion Senate reform.”

To others, however, this conclusion, while not entirely unjustified, seems conveniently rash.

Most of the Senate’s business is in committee. It’s here where, in the words of Senator Muriel McQueen Fergusson, the chamber’s “heart and soul” rests. According to an information circular posted to the CBC’s website a couple of years ago, “committees discuss important social, economic and political issues and this forum is where senators hear from interested citizens.”

Indeed, “Most bills, prior to third reading, are referred to committees where they are examined closely. In the Senate committee stage, public hearings are held, the bills are studied clauses by clause, and a report on the bill is prepared and presented to the Senate. Committees, which function as study groups, include 12 to 15 senators.”

Ms. Trenholm Counsell, who also served for a time as New Brunswick’s Lieutenant-Governor, elaborated on this to good effect in her recent radio interview.

“I worked as hard in the Senate as I did anywhere else. Wonderful work is done; the committee work,” she said. “I worked on. . .studies. I worked on a study on early childhood development. I burned the midnight oil quite often.”

In fact, she observed, “It is so interesting historically. Some bills have had upward of 100 amendments. The history and the tradition has been that those amendments have been accepted. . .I think we need the studies that come out of the Senate.

“In the House of Commons, they may bring in two or three people at the committee stage to speak to a bill. In some of the great bills that have come to the Senate, we might have had as many as 100 witnesses right across this country come in and speak to the substance of the bill. From there we made amendments which, by and large, were accepted. So, the legislation was better, much better. And that is because you had the great people. . .I am worried that this greatness is going out of the thing.”

She’s not aone.

Expense scandals, aside, the Senate’s growing partisanship, its evolution into a rubber stamp for the sitting government is contributing to its compromised stature. If its historical utility was related to its function as a check on the excesses of the Commons, to its role as what John A. Macdonald famously termed a chamber of “sober second thought”, the politics of modern times might easily render these expectations both quaint and antiquated.

Still, some signs are encouraging. As the Globe and Mail reported last week, “Senators pressed the government about why a federal spy agency has been probing telecommunications in Brazil, seeking clear answers about the activities of Communications Security Establishment Canada. Asking whether the spy agency has sufficient oversight, both Liberals and Conservatives in the Red Chamber demanded more information on Thursday about CSEC and its interest in Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy.”

Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, for one, appeared untroubled by his party affiliations when he pointedly commented, “Canada is the only country not to have any legislative oversight of any kind for its national-security services.”

All of which is to ask: Is there yet life in the Upper Chamber?

Tagged , , , , ,

How a Canadian senator goes down swinging


They will not go gently into that soft night, after all. They will scream and blame and, if they have anything to say about it, they will destroy those who set out to destroy them.

That’s what happens when former broadcast journalists turned semi-disgraced Canadian senators have nothing left to lose.

Mike Duffy had his day in the spotlight earlier this week when he declared before an assembly of his Upper Chamber colleagues in Ottawa:

“Like you, I took an solemn oath to put the interests of Canadians ahead of all else. However, the sad truth is I allowed myself to be intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong, out of a fear of losing my job and out a misguided sense of loyalty. . .Let me repeat, Deloitte investigated, their audit of my expenses related to my home in P.E.I., did not find wrongdoing. They said I had not broken the Senate’s rules.”

As for the vote to suspend him, he added, “This motion is something one might expect to see in Iraq or Iran, or in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, but not in democratic Canada. It is not, I repeat, fundamental justice.”

He reserved his choicest criticism for the Prime Minister’s Office: “Today, you have an opportunity to stand strong and use your power to restrain the unaccountable power of the PMO. That’s what this Senate’s about, sober second thought, not taking dictation from kids in short pants down the hall.”

Then it came Pamela Wallin’s turn.

“The motion to suspend me is baseless and premature, and likely beyond the scope of this chamber,” she told senators. “By throwing a member of this Senate under the bus, finding her guilty without a fair hearing such as any other Canadian could expect – a right guaranteed us by the Charter – to proceed without the evidence having been adduced and considered on which the charge in the motion is based – is a fundamental affront to Canadian democracy – and makes a mockery of this chamber.”

Then out came the fangs.

“One of the senators who sits in judgment of all of us, who had her sights trained on me from the beginning, Senator Stewart-Olsen, has recently had questions raised about her own probity in relation to her residential expense claims,” she crowed. “But of course there will be no Deloitte audit in her case. Apparently, the Committee on Internal Economy, of which she has long been a member, intends to consider her matter in private. This is a double standard – she gets kid glove treatment and I’m unfairly singled out for a retroactive audit.”

At the heart of all of this, Wallin declared, was simple, ugly, professional jealousy.

“She (Sen. Stewart-Olsen) and Marjory LeBreton (former Conservative Senate leader) could not abide the fact that I was outspoken in caucus, or critical of their leadership – or that my level of activity brought me into the public eye and once garnered the praise of the prime minister. They resented that – they resented me being an activist senator. In this chamber, Senator Marjory LeBreton derided me, accusing me of having an inflated view of my role.”

This is how a three-ring circus becomes a bout of bare knuckle mixed martial arts – the finest display of senatorial cage fighting since the Red Chamber last updated its rules of residency some time in the 19th century.

As for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the message is simple: Bad behaviour by elected or appointed representatives will not be tolerated. Period. End of discussion. So sayest Dad: “The victims here are the CanadIan people who expect from all parliamentarians that they will treat pubic money with the appropriate respect and integrity it deserves.”

It remains to be seen, of course, how much more bad behaviour will be  uncovered  – or covered up, as the case may be – in the Senate and the PMO.

It’s all very well to rage against the dying of the light, until you realize the lights on Parliament Hill went out a long time ago.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Canadian Senate sends in its clowns


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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

We’d better step up our scandalous game


There is nothing as disappointing, nothing that deflates the national self-worth as thoroughly, as a boring political scandal. We Canadians are lamentably proficient at manufacturing only the dreariest of all possible controversies.

Senator Pamela Wallin may or may not have bilked taxpayers tens-of-thousands-of-dollars either deliberately or unwittingly. Her colleague, Mike Duffy, improperly accepted a gift of $90,000 to pay off his debt to the Upper Chamber. Really? Is that all we got? Paper trails and chump change?

I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to do a lot better than that if we intend to enter the big leagues of global misconduct. Where are the illicit affairs, the love children, the hush money, the blackmail? Where are the tearful confessions, the bitter reproaches, the orchestrated displays of rehabilitation, the 24/7 news coverage?

More to the point, where is Anthony Weiner when we need him?

Mr. Weiner (pronounced “wee-ner”), you may recall, is the former multi-term U.S. congressman from New York’s ninth district who, in 2011, sent a picture of his underwear-clad private parts to one of his female Twitter followers. Initially, of course, he denied having done the misdeed. Then, at a press conference, he admitted that he had, in fact, “exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years,” adding: “To be clear, the picture was of me, and I sent it. I’m deeply sorry for the pain this has caused my wife, and our family, my constituents, my friends, my supporters and my staff. . .I lied because I was ashamed at what I had done, and I didn’t want to get caught.”

More recently, the apparently sexting-addicted politico, who is running for mayor of New York City, allows that he has continued his puerile ways even though they cost him his seat in Congress. In one of his tweets, under the nom de plum “Carlos Danger”, he reportedly describes himself as “an argumentative, perpetually horny middle-aged man”. Astonishingly, he refuses to drop out of the race.

All of which is enough to inspire The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg to marvel, in one recent issue of the magazine, “The saga of the transgressions of Anthony D. Weiner. . .is remarkable for many reasons. Chief among them is what the protagonist of the tale did not, as far as we know, do. He did not commit adultery. He did not break up a marriage, his own or anyone else’s. He did not employ the services of a prostitute. He did not stalk. He did not misuse public funds. . .He and his partners in sin have never been in the same room at the same time.”

In fact, he did nothing whatsoever except to reveal himself as a man who, in Mr. Hertzberg’s estimation, “is too unself-aware, too immature, and too narcissistic to be mayor.” Perhaps, but when it comes to processing scandals to remain perpetually in the public eye, this narcissist is a genius. Even the Brits could learn a thing or two from him.

Across the pond, reports that Prime Minister David Cameron’s “flagship law to end Britain’s lobbying scandals is a ‘useless dog’s breakfast’ and the Government should urgently postpone its current fast-tracked progress through Westminster, according to the head of the Commons committee that has scrutinised the reform. Graham Allen, who leads the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, has taken the unusual step of recalling his committee ahead of MPs’ return to Parliament next month, to hold special evidence sessions involving leading figures from the UK lobbying industry.”

As Mr. Allen told the news source in an exclusive, “The new lobbying law is rushed and ridiculous. Instead of addressing the Prime Minister’s promise to ‘shine the light of transparency’ on lobbying, this flawed legislation will mean we’ll all be back in a year facing another scandal. It is a dog’s breakfast.”

Important? Sure. Boring? Absolutely.

For our part, we Canadians deserve far better from our public officials. It’s been some time since we’ve been truly outraged. This is late summer, after all. The weather shouldn’t be the only thing that stays hot and steamy.

Tagged , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , ,

Fear and trembling in Canuckistan

The political process as we know it in Canada

The political process as we know it in Canada

Citizens of the world are united in at least one important respect: They’re feeling a might poorly these days, and they’re not at all sure what, if anything, can shake them from their malaise.

That, at least, is what we may conclude from a new Ipsos Global Advisory entitled, “The Economic Pulse of the World (May 2013),” in which “citizens in 24 countries assess the current state of their country’s economy for a total global perspective.”

The key findings, gleaned from interviews with 18,331 individuals between the ages of 16 and 64, suggest that, averaged overall, only 36 per cent think their “current national economic situation” is good. Most think it stinks. We Canadians are generally more positive (thank you Messrs. Harper, Flaherty and Carney). But, as Ipsos points out, even our confidence is showing some fissures of late.

In a section headlined, “Canada Cause of Growth Deterioration in North America”, the research firm states, “Also concerning is economic sentiment in Canada. The country has traditionally performed as the rock holding up North American sentiment, while the United States has struggled to recover from the 2009/2010 crash. However, assessments in Canada have dropped six points to 59% saying the economy is ‘good’, reflecting the largest drop in the country since September 2011.”

Of course, that’s still far better than many. “A considerable margin continues to exist at the top of the global ratings between global leader Saudi Arabia (80%) and the rest of the pack although this is closing compared to last month,” Ipsos reports. “Following Saudi Arabia is Sweden (70%), Germany (67%), India (66%), China (64%), and Australia (62%). Only a handful of those in Spain (3%) rate their national economies as ‘good’, followed by Italy (4%), France (5%), Hungary (7%) and Great Britain (13%).”

Accounting for Canada’s precipitous slide this month is a little like sifting through the leaves at the bottom of a teacup. After all, according to a report by TD Economics in April, “The Canadian economy beat expectations in February, growing 0.3%, following an upwardly revised 0.3% gain in January. Canadian economic growth has now accelerated to a 1.7% pace year-on-year. That is still sub-par, but a far cry better than its 1% clip at the end of 2012.”

Moreover, the bank states, “The Canadian labour market created 12,500 net jobs in April, a small bounce back from (March’s) 54,500 net loss. The trend pace of job creation moved back into positive territory as the 3-month moving average rose from -8,600 to 2,900 in the month while the 6-month moving average stayed steady at

12,400. The unemployment rate remained steady at 7.2%”

My theory about the mini-crisis in confidence here has more to do the the “weighted average” of bad news related to matters of a decidedly non-economic nature. With apologies to the Bard, consider these rough winds, ripped from the daily news, that do shake the darling buds of May in the late, Great White North:

“Senator Mike Duffy said Thursday he wants a ‘full and open inquiry’ to answer the many questions Canadians have about the spending scandal that prompted him to leave the Conservative caucus and now has the RCMP asking the Senate for more details about spending rules,” reported the CBC on Friday.

For something completely different, also from the CBC, “Members of Rob Ford’s executive committee say they are prepared to take over the day-to-day running of the city if the Toronto mayor is no longer able to perform his duties, amid a scandal involving allegations he was caught on video smoking crack cocaine.”

If these aren’t enough to send you screaming over to grandma’s house, then how about this from the Montreal Gazette: “Exploding cars, intimidating phone calls and clandestine meetings in the dead of night. The Charbonneau Commission was presented with a dark and unflattering portrait of the city of Laval on Thursday, with two witnesses describing their involvement in a well-organized system of collusion in the municipality that was both profitable and dangerous.”

A rotten economy? We should be so lucky.

Tagged , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: