The Senate mess: what can we expect next?

October 31, 2013

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  This has been a crazy week in Canadian politics.  it wouldn’t surprise me if Joe Oliver, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister, who returned from a trade mission to China last week, pulled another free-trade deal out of his hip pocket.  This one, to be signed in time for the ‘Year of the Horse‘ (Jan 31, 2014), would allow China unlimited access to the oil sands, including permission to build whatever pipelines they need to move the bitumen.  In exchange, China will have to assume responsibility for the management of the Canadian Senate and its senators.

The Senate, an appointed body that can revise any government bill except a money bill. It was intended to be a chamber that took a longer second look at government legislation. In the past few years it has become a place where appointed men and women abuse rules designed to manage their spending.

And who doesn’t sympathize with the PM?  How frustrating it must be when you stuff the Senate with handpicked disciples only to find they have turned on you; just like what happened to Julius Caesar on the Ides of March.  I know these senators are just having sober second-thoughts about being party to their own expulsions from the Senate but still – what a lack of gratitude.  Anyway, it makes for great drama and the PM and his crowd have given the Canadian TV networks a flood of new viewers feeding on the daily revelations of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau and the ever-creative denials and contradictions by the PM.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave…”  Did Harper dismiss Nigel Wright or had he resigned as was the first story?  Were Wallin’s expenses in order as the PM originally said or were they false claims as he now maintains?  How many people in the PMO knew about the $90,000 cheque to Duffy?  My rule of thumb is that if you have to keep changing your story, you weren’t being fully truthful in the first place. 

Stephen Harper is a meddler – not the kind to leave well enough alone, which makes him his own worst enemy.  And when a meddler is consumed with trying to get things perfect – they rarely turn out that way.  Think back to the G-8 meetings in 2010 where despite the government’s infatuation with making Canada look good, spending a tonne of money in the process, the nasty riots and disturbing violations of human rights are the only things we remember. 

Harper is well-known to be a micro-manager, which is why nobody believes that he wasn’t involved in the $90,000 cheque to Duffy.  More than that he is a control freak going so far as to treat the Senate as an extension of his Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).      But try as his loyal subjects, in the Senate, are trying, they will not likely be able to suspend the senators in question until Monday, which means that his appearance at the Conservative convention this weekend will be overshadowed by this issue.

And that means that the PM will come back next week with the Senate debacle still ongoing, and him having to find more answers to questions he wishes would just go away – questions like did you orchestrate that big cheque for Duffy, and why?  Or why would the PM compensate Duffy for repayment of wrongfully claimed expenses?  The answer may well have to wait until the RCMP complete their investigation, or until Nigel Wright finally has had enough and comes out of the closet, singing like a canary.

Stephen Harper in Calgary earlier in his career.

What a mess, and one that could most likely have been avoided.  Some have compared this affair to Watergate, though that is way over-the-top. This little tempest is unlikely to break the tea pot where our PM has been living – he’ll survive.  The latest polls show almost no effect among the Tory faithful.

Still this kind of political drama isn’t good for the PM or his party as they pass the midway point in their term in office, and it has given Mulcair an opportunity to finally show his stuff.  As for China taking over the Senate, rest assured that is not one of the options the PM put to the Supreme Court.  Besides, the Chinese would not be that foolish, even though it is called the Red Chamber.

 Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.

 ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND:  Joe Oliver in China  Polls



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3 comments to The Senate mess: what can we expect next?

  • S. Ludgate

    What disgusts me most about this whole affair is the greed and the abuse of public funds by Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau. Their interpretations of ‘senate spending rules’ is beyond justification. All the speculation about ‘who knew what/when’ only deflects from the real issue which is, in my opinion, the unwarranted sense of entitlement of the aforementioned senators.

  • Tony Pullin

    Ray, I know this scandal has gotten tons of airtime. The CBC needs this, the Star needs this, and I think that you need this too. It is necessary for the propagation of all things Liberal. To be satisfied only when the Justin rides to Ottawa on a silver whitewater raft bouncing from stone to stone (maternal trait), smoking a massive reefer and drinking hair tonic from a 846mL flask that he inherited from his dad.

    The people of Ontario could have used you media folk during some pretty costly scandals here over the past 9-10 years. E health, slush fund, Ornge (although the Star did cover this one), OLG, HST severance, green energy, Samsung deal, gas plant. Of course it got mainly missed or glanced over. Billions of dollars gone and going.

    On the flip side though, I wonder what you would say if Harper wasn’t holding their feet to the fire. That would be another scandal in itself no? Do you think that any of these aforementioned scandals were anywhere near as egregious as the Senate scandal? If so, why do we hear so little about them?