Four miscreant Senators seriosly damage reputation of Canadian Senate; is it time to get rid of it – can we?

By Ray Rivers.

August 15th, 2013

BURLINGTON, ON.   Still in the news and not going away.  Senator Wallin blew all the goodwill she earned from her interview with Mansbridge  when she jumped to the microphones to preempt the formal release of her expenses audit.  She claimed the audit was flawed and unfair, but then announced that she is going to pay what they have assessed anyway.  So if it was flawed, why pay it?

Her file has now been forwarded to the RCMP along with fellow Conservative senators Patrick Brazeau and Mike Duffy.  And then there is a Liberal, Mac Harb, who is sitting with a huge repayable expenses bill to his name.  Harb apparently claimed a permanent residence which was uninhabitable – without water and under construction.   

Oh, and Harb also accepted loans from a numbered company doing big business with the feds – something he must have known to be a no-no. 

Senator Mac Harb – thinking it over?

Mac Harb, was a good loyal Chretien trooper, an Ottawa MP, whose reward for service was a Senate seat.  He has a web page that lays out the things he is fighting for.  He is apparently engaged in some laudable activities but where does he get his mandate?  Are these activities official Senate business or just his pet peeves?

When Stephen Harper was elected in 2006 he swore not to appoint any senators until the Senate was reformed.  Of course he did.   Then in December 2008, when it looked like the NDP and Liberals were forming a coalition to take over government, Harper panicked, prorogued Parliament and decided to stack the Senate.  He appointed 18, the most ever named on a single day.  Wallin and Duffy were among the appointments that day.  It is pretty clear their roles were to support the PM and the Conservative party, doing what both parties had been doing for years.

The NDP has never been in power or they too would have stacked the Senate with supporters.  Instead, they sit on the side lines and complain about the unfairness of it all.  And they are right!  They point out that senators have no constituents, few responsibilities and no serious job description.  They are only required to pop-in to the Red Chamber occasionally to show they are still breathing and pick up their pay and expenses cheques.  For the most part they do politics, sit on corporate boards or live la vida loca.

Wouldn’t we all like a job like that?  Do we remember former Liberal Senator Andrew Thompson?  Now there was someone with an original perspective on his job.  Vacation in Mexico and show up in Ottawa for a total of two weeks in seven years.  You could just see him sauntering up to the Red Chamber on his burro and clearing the cobwebs from his Senate seat with his poncho.  

Mike Duffy, toasting – on the public’s dime?

Not all senators are this delinquent, of course, but many are totally embedded in their party’s politics.  For example, Liberal David Smith has co-chaired national political campaigns and Wallin and Duffy were clearly appointed as fundraisers.  Which explains all those partisan political expenses rejected by the independent auditors for that pair.  Let’s get this straight, we are willingly paying senators over $130,000 a year so they can work for their political party as volunteers. 

Senator Brazeau, being escorted from the Parliament buildings.

Brazeau, is another case.  He had been arrested on a domestic matter and is also under investigation for his expenses claims by the RCMP – not your upstanding public official.  Even so, he is unlikely to lose his seat unless he goes to prison.  In which case he will have another 37 years left to draw pay as senator, earning $5 million in salary over that time, plus travel and living expenses – and his pension.   

The Conservatives and Liberals don’t want to get rid of the Senate.  They’ll tell you how we need this, so-called, Chamber of Sober Second Thought.   But the evidence is in.  It is just a place to reward the politically faithful with a patronage appointment and give them a salary while they do their party’s bidding.

Ray Rivers was born in Ontario; earned an economics degree at the University of Western Ontario.  He taught in New Zealand and earned a Master’s degree in economics at the University of Ottawa.  His 25 year stint with the federal government included time with Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Agriculture and the Post office. Rivers left the federal government to consult for private sector and government clients.  He completed his first historical novel The End of September in 2012; a story about what might have happened had Quebecers voted for sovereignty association in the 1980 referendum.  Rivers is active with ratepayers groups, a food bank, environmental organizations, community journalism and policing.  He has run for municipal and provincial government offices and  held executive positions with Liberal Party  riding associations.  He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.

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2 comments to Four miscreant Senators seriosly damage reputation of Canadian Senate; is it time to get rid of it – can we?

  • Bob Zarichansky

    We are presented with only two alternatives for change in the Canadian Senate:
    1. Turn the Senate into a second House of Commons— the Harper/EEE plan. There are enough flaws with the present formula for the House of Commons, why would we duplicate it with a separate but identical twin chamber?
    2. Abolish the Senate
    And this is where the impoverished imagination of the political party intelligentsia, legal and bureaucratic stumble-bums and of course our media leave us.
    I suggest that we need a legislative body that lies outside of political fiefdoms and not only reviews and comments on proposed legislation from the House but tackles the problems of the country by maintaining a continuous grass-roots link with the citizens of the country.
    To do so, every current lackey and political hack-senator should be released from their position on the grounds of conflict of interest—at present they are primarily serving their party and not the Canadian people.
    I believe that we do have competent non-partisan people in this country who are committed to positive change and perfectly capable of upholding an ethical code of conduct. In a smaller senate with senators having a shorter fixed term of duty, I believe we can finally see important issues being raised and addressed rather than just witnessing the sad farce played out by cosmetic estheticians in the House of Commons and the Supreme Court.

  • Tony Pullin

    They had a good thing going, and all they had to do was walk the line. I suppose the “sober second thought” notion is fine until the deck gets stacked. Of course Chretien appointed all Liberal Senators (54 and a couple of independents) during his time too. I’m not sure what Senate Reform would look like. Perhaps it’s time to see it go. Good column.