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Men in Long Pants
by Michael Neilly, Dunrobin ON

Thoughts on the Senate Scandal and the Future of the Upper Chamber...

"Perhaps we should select senators as we do jury members,
or run a lottery, and let greatness be thrust upon them, as happened when NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau won a seat in
the lower house for which she never seriously campaigned."

Michael Neilly, November 2013

Oh, what to make of our beloved Senators. I’m not talking about the ones playing at the “Bank”, once Scotia Bank Place here in Ottawa, but the ones in “long pants”, as Senator Mike Duffy put it as he responded to his suspension from the upper chamber for irregular expense claims.

Watching the CBC, it made me angry to see the politicians and media obsessing about who knew what and when in the Prime Minister’s Office. The government broadcaster didn’t even mention Liberal Senator Mac Harb, who was also implicated in the expense claims “scandal.”  Like the Afghan detainees issue, in which it was alleged that prisoners taken by Canadians were tortured when handed over to our allies, the political fire is burning, again about who knew what and when, much brighter than the offence itself!

In this case, I think senator Mike Duffy protests too much, in his recent testimony in the Senate. I find it amazing how Conservatives can crow about democracy and fair play, and turn on each other, so ethical are they, like gang members in a knife fight. Witness the travails of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative party.  Any good Liberal would simply fall on his sword to keep his political masters in power!

Having submitted expenses in the private sector for decades, I don’t understand how the people accepting the expense claims could possibly not know their own rules. If I expensed for a movie in a hotel while travelling on business, Accounting would certainly let me know that these claims were disallowed. 

Maybe the rules about residency for senators are a bit murky? (*)  Honestly, what is the province indicated on my health card? What province is on my driver’s licence? Where is my primary residence, the one I’ve submitted on my tax return to the CRA? Surely this is clear enough.  Regardless, it’s telling that most senators seem to have filed legitimate expense claims.

Perhaps we should dispense with the Senate residency requirement entirely. If the province wants you to work for them as a delegate to Ottawa, why not hire the best candidate to represent you and forget about arbitrary residency rules completely?  If any province or territory wanted to hire, appoint or elect ex-journalist Peter Trueman or astronaut Chris Hadfield as a senator, I say why not! Get the best man or woman for the job, never mind their accent.

According to our Mother state broadcaster, with all the affected earnest compassion of Norman Bethune and the blinkers of a crack addict, the problem is the ethics of the current Prime Minister. The much bigger problem than any one Prime Minister, I see it is the Senate itself, but this is strangely absent from the CBC’s narrative. I still remember Brian Mulroney attacking John Turner over patronage appointments. “You had a choice,” Mr. Mulroney railed. And Canadians, sick to death of the über-entitled Liberals, agreed.  Patronage appointments have been going on for decades. Of course the appointment of any provincial representative by a federal party leader is a conflict of interest!

Some are in favour of abolishing the senate.  This is clearly a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. The interests of this country would be best served if the governor general’s power to appoint senators was ceded to the provinces’ lieutenant governors and territorial committees, or premiers.  Each province would appoint, elect or hire their own senators, and pay their salaries.  They could send as many as they liked up to their entitlement, or not send any at all.

Perhaps we should select senators as we do jury members, or run a lottery, and let greatness be thrust upon them, as happened when NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau won a seat in the lower house for which she never seriously campaigned.

The Senate, proclaimed as the chamber of sober second thought, surely would also benefit from ordinary people, be they dentists, accountants, fishermen, farmers, and not just “eminent” Canadians. I see this Senate of ours as our “council of Canadians”, elder statesmen who act as the good shepherd, a steady hand on the tiller of the good ship Canada.

Never mind senators-in-waiting, this is a Senate-in-waiting, waiting for common sense. If I were Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau, instead of posturing in question period, I’d be arranging a private meeting with the Prime Minister, in which we’d all agree that the current Senate is an anachronism corrupted by party politics (much like the lower house), and that our top priorities were the removal of archaic Senate residency rules so that any Canadian can be a senator and live in Ottawa without playing games, and that Ottawa cede the power to appoint senators to the provinces.  As for expenses, make them tax deductible, as the CRA does for government contractors. 

Mulcair and Trudeau and Harper, men in long pants. If only.

Mike Neilly, Dunrobin ON
- dialogue always welcome:  fifth_columnist@magma.ca  §    

* Apparently the actual, legal requirement for Senators is that they own at least $4000-worth of property in the province on whose behalf they are appointed; and, as explained by Senator Serge Joyal, Senators have to sign to that effect at the opening of each session of Parliament.

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