Canadian Senate Blues

They call it “the Red Chamber” but it sure seems like Canadians have been singing the Senate Blues for most of my life.

In the dying days of the Harper Government, the misadventures of Senator Mike Duffy proved to be a major embarrassment for the Canadian Government.  By the time the dust settled, Duffy had resigned from the Conservative Caucus, the criminal charges against him were dropped, and Duffy, now an un-aligned independent, resumed his seat as Senator for PEI (even though he still doesn’t actually seem to live there). Then Prime Minister Stephen Harper was certainly mixed up in Mr. Duffy’s case, but was never properly investigated or held to account.

But Duffy’s case was just the tip of the iceberg. The Auditor General report identified thirty (THIRTY!) past and present Canadian senators or former senators as having “made inappropriate or ineligible expense claims.”  In addition to being implicated in the expense scandal, 39 year old Senator Patrick Brazeau had a host of still unresolved other problems.   About a year ago Press Progress shared an Angus Reid Opinion Poll that suggested only 6% of Canadians were happy with the Senate as is.

Senate Thrones

Real or Imagined?

Canada’s new Trudeau Government had ostentatiously promised, ahem, real change.

And yet, once again, there are Senators making news in ways that reflect very poorly on Canada’s Upper House.

Interim Conservative Party Leader Rona Ambrose has called for the resignation of Stephen Harper appointee Senator Don Meredith after Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard’s investigation exposed his inappropriate sexual relationship with a teen.

Senator Meredith has made it abundantly clear he has no intention of going quietly, even though the other Senators are determined to expel Don Meredith after his relationship with teenage girl.

It has become increasingly clear that a code of conduct that hopes miscreants will quietly resign in the face of exposure is simply not sufficient. Real change requires a framework that allows for summary suspensions of Senators (and MPs) accused of impropriety and/or lawbreaking, removing them from office if such charges proven. Our Westminster System of government was designed for a feudal society that allowed the nobility to get away with a great deal.  But in a society that aspires to citizen equality there is no place for such abuses of power.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, now we learn Senator Lynn Beyak, member of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples  has spoken up in defence of the “abundance of good” in Residential Schools.

I speak partly for the record, but mostly in memory of the kindly and well-intentioned men and women and their descendants — perhaps some of us here in this chamber — whose remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part and are overshadowed by negative reports. Obviously, the negative issues must be addressed, but it is unfortunate that they are sometimes magnified and considered more newsworthy than the abundance of good.

Honourable Lynn Beyak, Senate Debates: Increasing Over-representation of Indigenous Women in Canadian Prisons

As might be expected, Senator Beyak’s attitude has not gone over well.  CBC reports Senator’s residential school comment ‘hurts the integrity of the Canadian system,’ survivor says.  The Liberal Indigenous Caucus issued a statement asking Senator Beyak to “resign from the Senate as her views are inconsistent with the spirit of reconciliation that is required in both chambers of Parliament.”  Committee Chair Senator Lillian Eva Dyck agrees Senator Bayek’s should resign after her ill-informed and insensitive comments.

Even the United Church had some strong words for the Hon. Ms. Beyak:

“Indigenous peoples and organizations have responded to Senator Beyak’s comments. As one of the parties responsible for the operation of residential schools, The United Church of Canada also feels a responsibility to respond.

“Senator Beyak spoke of the “good intentions” behind the residential schools system. Thirty years ago, The United Church of Canada apologized to First Nations Peoples for our role in colonization and the destruction of their cultures and spiritualties. In the process of preparing, delivering, and attempting to live out that Apology, we have learned that “good intentions” are never enough, and that to offer such words in explanation is damaging and hurtful.

“The United Church of Canada participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission not just as part of a legal agreement but also as part of a moral and ethical commitment to understand the impact of our role in the residential schools system, to atone for it, and to participate in healing and building of a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

— Moderator: Senator Beyak’s Comments on Residential Schools

Not everyone is right for every job, and it’s pretty clear to everyone but Senator Beyak that she is not a good fit for the Senate of Canada.  Again, there doesn’t seem to be any provision to remove her in spite of the growing outcry.  The longer this goes on, the worse the Senate, and, indeed the Government of Canada looks.

Canadians need a government capable of governing itself with decorum and accountability.

As often happens in Canada’s unrepresentative democracy, there is a Petition:

SIGN THE PETITION:
We demand the resignation of Senator Lynn Beyak and issuance of a formal apology

It seems Canada’s unfair First Past The Post electoral system continues to engender a political culture of shameless entitlement even (especially?) in our un-elected Senate. A democratic government that fails to answer to its citizens is seriously dysfunctional.


Image Credits

Senate photos by Makaristos have been dedicated to the public domain.  Click the images to find the originals on Wikimedia Commons.

When Conservative Isn’t

Canadian flag twisting in the wind (cc by laurelrusswurm)

$90,000 “expenses”

Conservative Senator Mike Duffy’s idea of “expenses” is a little different than mine.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s internal economy committee wants to have another look at Duffy’s expense claims amid growing questions about his conduct, including new revelations that he filed claims for Senate business while campaigning for the Conservatives in the last federal election.

“Documents revealed that Duffy billed taxpayers for being on official Senate business while he was campaigning for the Conservatives during the 2011 federal election. If it is confirmed that Duffy attended eight campaign events and submitted Senate expenses, he could be in trouble for double-billing.”

Damning findings removed from Sen. Mike Duffy’s audit report: documents

Wasn’t Prime Minister Stephen Harper going to reform the Senate?

$90,000 “gift”

Nigel Wright Resigns As Stephen Harper’s Chief Of Staff (TWITTER REACTS)

One might think “Harvard-educated Bay Street lawyer and banker” Nigel Wright would know better than to write a cheque to cover Senator Mike Duffy’s exense irregularities.

“It goes without saying that a cheque for such a large amount is far from a customary standard of hospitality, nor a normal expression of courtesy,” [MP Charlie] Angus wrote in a letter.

“The NDP MP also suggested that Duffy, Wright, or both may have breached section 16 of the Parliament of Canada Act which prohibits a senator from receiving compensation for any services rendered.”

Mike Duffy Resignation: Senator Leaves Caucus, Will Sit As Independent

I’m always surprised when government tells us “throwing money at” education and health care are a bad idea. Properly funding social programs makes a lot more sense to me than covering up bad behaviour. I guess we just have different priorities.

$321,000 “expenses”

[Pamela] Wallin, a former journalist who now represents Saskatchewan in the Senate, has claimed about $321,000 in travel expenses since September 2010 that are the subject of an audit by an outside firm.

Senator Pamela Wallin leaves Conservative caucus: Wallin to sit as an Independent during audit process

Consequences?

Senators Duffy and Wallin both claim to have withdrawn from the Conservative caucus, but both plan to stay on as “independent” senators.

Uh huh… Does anyone actually believe they will suddenly stop supporting Conservative interests? Seriously?

$170,000 “expenses”

Another Conservative Government appointee, Daniel Caron, the head of Library and Archives Canada has also resigned over $170,000 of dubious expenses.

Since LAC is the official government repository of Canadian heritage,this one bothers me in particular.

Coping with a $10-million federal budget cut, Caron oversaw major staff downsizing to the department, reduced funding to scores of tiny archives across Canada, halted most acquisitions of historical artifacts, closed the National Archival Development Program, and stopped a system of inter-library loans through which Canadians could access material from its vast collections.

Library head Daniel Caron resigns as $170,000 in expenses found

When you consider that what Mr. Caron considers personal expenses would support as many as ten or fifteen families on social assistance for a year, it calls into question the word “conservative.”

Accountability

The National Post gets this one right: Andrew Coyne: Fear of audits led Conservatives to cover for Mike Duffy

Canada badly needs meaningful electoral reform. If we had a democratic system that actually represented Canadians ~ Proportional Representation ~ our government representatives and appointees could be held accountable.

What a difference that would make.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves