After a summer break Parliament resumes on Wednesday. The Parliamentary summer break is always scheduled to be longer than most school vacations. This year at the whim of the prime minister it was more than a month longer than usual, for no apparent reason.
Oh, there was a lot of talk about resetting the agenda, about giving his re-shuffled cabinet time to get up to speed in their new portfolios (which makes one wonder just how dim witted this crowd is), and of course, there was some speculation that the extra time was needed to give Canadians enough time to forget about the Senate scandal that was front and centre most of the winter and spring.
We’ll have to wait until next week to see just how dramatically the agenda has been reset, and it will take a week or two to determine if the new cabinet is up to speed, but, as far as Canadians forgetting about the Senate scandal, that didn’t work out too well.
How can anyone forget the shenanigans in the Senate when once or twice a month there’s yet another revelation of some perversity or another. In September it was Sen. Wallin petulantly paying back more than $100,000 in expenses which she claims to be unfair because they changed the rules. But, about 100 other senators seemed to be able to figure out the rules, or maybe they were just lucky and didn’t get caught.
Then in October it was revealed that Mr.Duffy paid a friend from his senate office account some $65,000 for not working or for doing work that is seemingly intangible. Given the way most Canadians feel about the senate there is something deliciously perverse about a senator paying someone else for doing nothing.
In October, we also discovered that rather than there being no paper trail as was originally claimed for the $90,000 that Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s chief of staff, gave to Mr. Duffy to pay back his senate expenses, it turns out that Mr. Wright had a binder crammed with emails and memos which he gave to the RCMP.
This, plus the fact that at least two other members of the prime minister’s staff knew of the payment and Mr. Duffy’s problematic expenses, is making it difficult to accept the Prime Minister’s assurances he knew nothing about Mr. Wright’s involvement or his payment to Mr. Duffy.
And, of course, we also have the irony of Mr. Harper, who allegedly prorogued parliament to put some distance between himself and the senate, going on Wednesday to sit in this same senate to hear his speech from the throne being read. Also, jammed into the back of the senate chamber to hear the throne speech will be MPs from the Commons, including Liberals and New Democrats who keep asking those pesky questions. Ms Wallin and Mr. Duffy, who having been banished to the back of the senatorial bus will be sitting within spitting distance of those same MPs.
The NDP has recently proposed that senators, as government appointees, should be prohibited from partisan political work and that they should no longer be allowed to sit or partake in party caucus meetings.
The NDP still thinks the senate should be abolished, but is proposing this interim reform as a measure that could be made immediately.
There is a certain logic behind their thinking. Originally, senators were appointed to represent their regions or province. The senate’s primary purpose is to review the bills that are passed by the House of Commons and make amendments to improve them.
This process of review might be better served if the Senate was more arms length from the partisanship which prevails in the House of Commons. By attending the weekly party caucuses, senators can not help but be inculcated with the prevailing party line which may not necessarily be in the best interest of the province or region they represent.
Given the tenor of the times, the NDP also want restrictions placed on senate travel. This is not as good an idea as many think it is. Given the length of their appointments senators have the opportunity to enhance their knowledge in areas of interest to them and their regions. Travel is often key to broadening a person’s scope and knowledge, and to unduly restrict any parliamentarian’s ability in this regard is not in the national interest.
And to do so because of the abuses of a few people is not good public policy.
- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org