Why should you be concerned about the Canadian Senate Scandal?
On Friday, the Senate will vote on whether to expel Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau or wait for the RCMP investigation to finish. On the surface, the matter appears simple enough: the senators had unapproved expenses which were not paid back.
If one digs a little deeper, as Duffy suggests, you will find many indicators which suggest that these expulsions could be part of a scheme to unravel the credibility of the Senate and lead to its abolishment.
How the Canadian Parliamentary system is different:
In Canada, unlike the United States, there is no distinction between the Executive and the Party. The Prime Minister is both the leader of the ruling political party and leader of the House of Commons.
The Senate has become a bunch of “PMO puppets” to quote Duffy. This is hardly surprising considering that the Prime Minister appoints people to the Senate. Some of these Senators are also appointed as members of the party’s caucus. This means that they play a role in policy making.
In Canada, parliamentarians are aligned first with the party to which they belong. The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) has a liaison committee consisting of members from the CPC and the parliamentary caucus. This committee is to make sure that elected and appointed parliamentarians are in lockstep with the party base.
Given this scenario it is more troubling to consider the rushed motions to expel these Senators. Prime Minister Harper appointed Senators Brazeau, Wallin and Duffy to the Senate and also to the CPC caucus. Clearly there were expectations of them. Had they outdone their usefulness?
Senator Wallin was the chair of the Senate Defense Committee. As a First Nations, Brazeau clearly had a role to play when the Prime Minister wanted to push through omnibus bills which will have repercussions on how reserve land is defined.
Duffy was accused of unapproved living expenses. Yet, he met with Nigel Wright and Prime Minister Harper and was told not to worry about it. Wright arranged for a cheque to be written to cover the so-called unapproved expenses. Wright told the media he wrote a personal cheque. Duffy kept the cheque stub; it was from the law firm of the head CPC lawyer, Arthur Hamilton.
Why would the Prime Minister’s office want to cover up the source of these funds? One assumes that the money came from Conservative Fund Canada, the corporation that handles the money for the CPC.
Duffy was told to make the claim that he had obtained a loan from the Royal Bank for $90,000 and in turn the CPC would pay for his legal expenses, resulting from slanderous allegations. A lot of these allegations were the result of high-level leaks with information that only a few people knew about.
Yesterday in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Harper said that it was “normal practice” for the CPC to pay for its members legal expenses. However, by that time, Duffy had been thrown out of the caucus and was sitting as an independent.
Senator Wallin pointed out in her speech to the Senate that she was not allowed to have legal counsel question the facts against her. In fact, she was told by Senator Carignan that the Canadian Charter of Rights did not apply to the Senate; it was a “rights-free zone.”
The Senate itself has very vague rules about how it is run and who approves expenses for travel and living. In fact the Senator Resident Policy, a two page document, has nothing about the number of days one must live in the home province or at a given residence. The Senate itself determines those things. As Wallin pointed out, “it depends on who you ask.”
Listening to the Senators’ speeches, it becomes clear that there is a rush to expel them as soon as possible. Why the rush? Why not allow them “due process” to go over all the documents they have tabled? Even there was a motion to stop the debate. Midway through Duffy’s speech he was told that his “fifteen minutes” was over and he had to ask for more time.
Another Senator, Mac Harb, was also accused of similar wrong doings, but he quit. It would’ve been helpful to Canadians if he could shed some truth on this.
Will there be a Senate in Canada’s future? Opposition Leader Mulcair (who some say is a pet rock of Harper) has been travelling across the country encouraging the abolishment of the Senate. It’s not the Senate that’s the problem; it’s who is running it.
We need a separate Senate, a place out of reach of the Prime Minister’s control, a house of sober second thought.
If Canadians are only left with the House of Commons run by a party which is answerable to a corporation, we will soon join the ranks of other third world countries.