My Perspective on the Senate Scandal
From zero to hero? Not in my book. To me the only issue that was resolved after the year-long trial of Mike Duffy was that his abuse of public tax dollars did not meet the standard of a criminal act. As a headline in the Toronto Star this weekend says, “The Criminal Code doesn’t make up for a lack of ethics.”
Nothing changes the fact that Senator Duffy pushed his so-called privileges in the Senate to the limit, including charging the services of a personal trainer to taxpayers and funnelling expenses through a third party. Nothing changes the fact that the Senator does not have his principal residence in Prince Edward Island, the province he represents in the Senate. And nothing changes the fact that the Senate itself found that Duffy had expensed $90,000 that he should not have and ordered him to pay it back. As a Senator, Mike Duffy has taken advantage of almost every loophole there was. It was not illegal. It was just plain wrong and it sure doesn’t pass the smell test.
It was almost amusing to watch many in the media back pedal like there was no tomorrow after Mike Duffy was cleared of all criminal charges. Pundits, who for months and months have almost salivated and certainly dined out on Duffy’s woes, suddenly paint him as the victim. After all, he was one of their own long before he took a Conservative handout and it is much more fun to aim their guns at the Harper regime, even though for all political purposes, they are dead and gone. None of that however, changes or excuses Senator Duffy’s behaviour in the Red Chamber.
Did Harper’s PMO screw up during the Duffy/Senate scandal? You betcha. But let’s put that in perspective, too. First of all, Prime Minister Harper, from day one, was not a fan of the Senate. In fact, he actually pushed hard for Senate reform. When he failed in that, he appointed Senators who were not party hacks, such as journalists Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin and Olympic skier Nancy Greene. That, too, backfired on him so when he learned that one of his own appointees had been found by his Senate colleagues to be charging expenses he should not have, it is no surprise that the P.M. would tell him to pay them back.
It is also no surprise that the Prime Minister’s Office tried to distance themselves and the Prime Minister as far away from this scandal as they could. The fact that they failed miserably and actually exacerbated it is another issue. Every political leader’s office, of all stripes, has an “issues management” team whose job it is to get ahead of potential damaging issues, protect the leader and, when in power, the Government. That is a fundamental function of the PMO, has been for decades and is now in the office of Prime Minister Trudeau.
Harper’s PMO did not misspend a cent of Senate expenses. Mike Duffy did. No one, except perhaps the media, sought Duffy out to be a fall guy. He caused the problem in the first place. Hard as others might try, he is not the victim here. That being said, the manner in which the guys in short pants in the PMO managed the affair was a disaster. No one comes away from this squeaky clean.
So what has actually changed in the Senate as a result of all this? Not a great deal in my view, although at long last it looks like some of the spending rules will be tightened up. But Mike Duffy is back in his seat, probably contemplating a cushy book deal if not a civil suit against all and sundry. While Mike Duffy (thanks to his then friend Nigel Wright) has paid back his disallowed expenses, seven retired Senators have not, five of whom, by the way, are Liberals.
The so-called Senate reforms will not work. The Senate is not and never will be non-partisan. By the nature of their mandate they cannot be. To call Liberal Senators “Independent Liberal Senators” is an oxymoron. If you are a Liberal or for that matter a Conservative, by definition, you are not independent. As for the new Independent Senators appointed by the Prime Minister, time will tell if they really are, but early signs are not positive. The Senator appointed to guide government legislation through the Upper Chamber (how can he be independent?) has already caucused with the other rookies and quite likely considers it his job to have them support the government that appointed them.
To me, this is little more than window dressing. Nothing has really changed. Over the years, there have been some distinguished members of the Senate who do not deserve to be tarnished by a systemic, self-righteous sense of entitlement of some of its members, on both sides of the aisle. However, as this inappropriate, self -serving behaviour has become more prevalent and more exposed, they have indeed become tarnished, along with the entire Upper Chamber.
The damage to the Senate in its current form, in my view, is irreparable and perhaps that is what Senator Duffy and those like him should be remembered for.
Photo credit: huffingtonpost.ca
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