PM Harper will fail to change dial prior to Conservative convention
No matter what one’s personal opinion about the recent Senate spending scandal, there is still a basic tenet in our democratic system in play here. It’s called due process and fairness before the law. The federal government’s motions to suspend Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, three former Tories appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is patently unfair.
The three have not been charged with anything criminal, RCMP investigations are still ongoing and there have been repayments of some of the money in dispute. The senators have used the excuse of confusing rules and have made no admission of deliberate misdeeds. The Senate has found they made inappropriate expense claims but until an investigation or court finds something more sinister, it’s surprising that the Senate is going this far. The motions to be debated this week would strip the three of their pay, benefits and Senate resources for the remainder of the parliamentary session.
The prime minister had virtually ignored the issue of the Senate in the Speech from the Throne last Wednesday so why this draconian measure shortly afterwards? Sen. Wallin and Sen. Duffy say they will fight any suspension which their lawyers describe as an affront to Canadian democracy.
Were the motions tabled to help the Conservatives change the channel and create the impression of a clean slate for the Tory annual convention in Calgary this week? That will be a forlorn hope as all summer Canadians have expressed their displeasure to MPs and senators about the scandal and a debate on suspensions is too little, too late.
The other attempt by the prime minister to change the dial involves public disclosure of expenses of MPs and senators. Mr. Harper is unlikely to ever concede the point, but the decision announced Friday that Conservative MPs and senators will begin voluntarily disclosing more details about their expenses online follows what Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has been advocating for some months. Liberal MPs and senators began posting their expenses earlier this month. Mr. Trudeau had sought support from the Conservatives and NDP on the disclosure idea earlier this year but that went nowhere.
Fisheries Minister and Egmont MP Gail Shea is right to be worried the Senate scandal is breeding cynicism about politicians and may discourage Islanders and Canadians from entering politics. Mrs. Shea seems to carefully chide the government’s decision to take punitive action at this time. She urges caution until all the details come out, and then pass judgment.
Nor should P.E.I. get a black eye over Mr. Duffy, anymore than Saskatchewan is criticized over Ms. Wallin, or Quebec over Mr. Brazeau. This province is small and a person of Mr. Duffy’s stature might tend to stand out more, but it should not lessen the impression of this province in any sensible person’s viewpoint. And just when you would think senators would take every effort not to say something outlandish, along comes Liberal Senator George Baker of Newfoundland and Labrador who says he is concerned with creating a precedent with the case before them. Baker says, "The Senate is above all rules in that they can set their own parameters for rules.” How arrogant. Parliament has the privilege to make rules but lawmakers had better realize they are not above the law and cannot changes laws to protect themselves before or after the fact.
Even Government Senate Leader Claude Carignan said disciplinary action against the senators was for their "gross negligence." That can be translated into stupidity which is not a criminal charge but apparently has wide-ranging applications in both Houses of Parliament.