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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A look back at 2013, Part II: the Senate Scandal

The Senate spending scandal stands out as a news story for, at least, a couple of reasons. To start with, it suggests we have a shifty-shady group—well four anyway—in our upper house.

I’m sure there are many honest, hard-working, honourable men and women serving in the Senate, but we’ve been careless with appointments, placing loyalty-and-past-service to a party ahead of a best-suited-for-the-job ethic.

I’m not in favour of shutting the place down, however. But we do need to press for serious reform to make the Senate effective. We already have far too much power concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), and that’s not serving Canadians very well at this time—at least, not from where I sit.

Senate reform and new parliamentary rules similar to those suggested in MP Michael Chong’s private member’s bill, Reform Act would go a long way in strengthening our democracy.

It’s all there, isn’t it? Chong’s Reform Act and a senate that is equal, elected and effective. Sound familiar? Think Triple-E Senate. All that’s required is a country-first initiative from our federal government with some political will behind it and we’d be there in no time. I pretty sure the Conservative Party of Canada or one of its predecessors has already promised as much. It’s now time to deliver the goods.

The other point I want to make is about how overblown the coverage of the Senate scandal has been. Good grief! Allegations, accusations and real police arrests due to possible the most serious and widespread corruption scandal in Canadian history  have been almost daily news stories in Quebec, yet seldom do these displace repetitious rehash stories on the Senate scandal. Not even multiple stories of scandal and malfeasance in the Ontario Liberal government—the gas plant scandal alone will cost Ontario taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars—could overshadow the Senate scandal—at least, not for long. It took the similarly over-hyped Rob Ford scandal in Toronto to edge out the Senate scandal at many media outlets.

Four senators have acted badly. Some may even eventually be charged with a criminal offence. This was news, yes. Big news even. But really, is this the worst or most news worthy thing to happen in Canada in the past 12 months? Hardly.

Most puzzling for me is that the biggest part of the story seems to be questions about who knew what when, and did the PM know about his chief-of-staff’s head-scratching decision to cover personally Senator Duffy’s repayment of nearly $100,000 in disputed expenses.

The Senate spending scandal has shredded four senators’ careers and caused resignations in the highest office at the PMO. Time to move on now and await the RCMP’s decision as to whether any of this bad behaviour rises to the level of criminal acts.

I believe, if certain allegations are proven, some senators could face charges. On the other hand, I fail to see how anything reported so far about the PMO’s part in the affair comes close to being criminal.

But we’ll see soon enough. In the meantime, can we get back to business and concentrate on parliamentary debates and committee affairs that might actually help Canada to move forward?

2 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. I am in favour of abolishing but electing would work provided the seats are re-distributed to more accurately reflect the population. I don't think its right that Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have the same number of seats as Alberta and BC while New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have more despite the fact Alberta and BC are much larger than any of those provinces in population. Likewise Ontario should have more seats than Quebec. In fact Quebec is the only province with around the right representation while the four Atlantic provinces, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are overrepresented while BC, Alberta, and Ontario are under. I would support maybe doing something along the line using the square roots of the population for ratios, but PEI having the same number of senators as Ontario would be a very bad idea in my view.

    The best way to make reforms is put it to a referendum nation wide and it would need 50% nationally and over 50% in 7 out of 10 provinces with over 50% of the population. It wouldn't guarantee reform but most premiers would be reluctant to take a position at odds with their own voters.

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    1. Anon, we already have have representation by population in the House of Commons. I'd favour a senate based on the Australian model, which itself is a hybrid of the Westminster and U.S.A. models. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Senate)

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