© Canadian Press graphic
Sen. Patrick Brazeau, left, Sen. Pamela Wallin and Sen. Mike Duffy are seen in this combination of three file photos.
Note: Dan Leger is writing a book on Mike Duffy and the Senate scandal
It’s amazing to think that anyone could take the chance of losing a guaranteed income, benefits and a very generous pension, all over a few thousand dollars in expenses, even if it’s more than just a few thousand.
But that is what Senator Mike Duffy is accused of doing. He is accused of claiming expenses to which he was not entitled. He disputes that of course, and last week his disputation threw off enough molten political shrapnel that it now threatens the Harper government.
The Senate scandal has become so entangled in the most essential questions about the way Parliament operates that it could blow up into a constitutional crisis. Edmonton Conservative MP Peter Goldring says he is contemplating going to the Governor General to ask him to stop the process going on in the Senate. If that sounds like an extraordinary possibility, that’s because it is. The last time a governor general did anything even remotely similar to that was in 1926.
It’s also amazing that some of the highest officials in the Stephen Harper government and top operators in the Conservative party could risk so much in their attempts first to stifle the brewing expense scandal and then to cover it up. Their actions now threaten the credibility of the prime minister himself.
And make no mistake, this has come at terrible cost to many people. The senators might have created their own trouble, but they now face utter and complete ruin. If the Senate Conservatives are successful and vote the three into suspension this week, they won’t have a paycheque to cover their legal bills and for practical purposes, no way to earn one. Remember, at this point the allegations against the senators are only that: allegations.
The RCMP is investigating, but so far no one has been charged, as Duffy’s lawyer pointed out last week in his explosive news conference.
The scandal has already cost Nigel Wright his job, because of his appalling error in judgment in bailing out Duffy and then compounding it, if we are to believe the prime minister, by not telling his boss.
It has resulted in three senior PMO aides being shuffled out, one out of government entirely. Wright did tell them about the arrangement with Duffy, yet we are asked to believe that none of them told the prime minister.
Stephen Harper is also changing his story. For months, he didn’t know and neither did anyone else in his office. Then last week, that changed to an admission that some people in the PMO did know about it after all.
It’s hard to find anyone now short of a Conservative MP who still believes that Harper’s carefully worded non-denials constitute a real defence.
Meanwhile, the Senate appears ready to come apart at the seams. The Conservatives seem hell-bent on ramming through motions to suspend Duffy, Senator Pamela Wallin and Senator Patrick Brazeau, all without hearing the evidence or giving any of the three the right to defend themselves.
It is a flat-out kangaroo court, in which the majority party senators are acting as police, prosecutor and judge all rolled up into one.
No matter what you think about the expense scandal or whether the senators behaved inappropriately, every Canadian should be entitled to have a fair hearing before their livelihood is taken and they are condemned to infamy.
Someone in the Senate has to wake up and see that what they are doing sets a profoundly dangerous precedent. They are interfering with the status of parliamentarians who were legally appointed and should not be messed with at the whim of the majority party.
There also seems to be an idea out there that if this happened in a private company that the senators would be fired immediately. The prime minister himself has suggested that.
But even in the private sector, people don’t get fired without due process. In any properly run company, an investigation is carried out and the individual has a chance to mount a defence.
Even in private business, the sentence isn’t carried out first and the investigation follows. “You will be given a fair trial and then be shot at dawn,” is a bad joke, not a sound democratic policy.
There’s a lot at stake here: the government’s credibility, the rights of parliamentarians and the question of public trust in Parliament. The Harper government brought all this upon itself. It can’t dodge responsibility.
Dan Leger is a Halifax-based writer and commentator.