Tag Archives: Senate expense scandal

A riddle wrapped in an enigma


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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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.

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