Senate scandal Update – November 3rd

A few weeks ago, I wrote, a post outlining the Senate expense scandal. There, I briefly outlined the issue by stating that the problem was essentially about senators making inappropriate claims for housing allowances and other expenses.

Since then, the situation has escalated with the Conservatives (Tories) in the senate introducing a motion to suspend senators Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin without pay and without access to benefits. This debate of the motion has played out over the past week and a half with intense media coverage and is expected to continue into the week of November 4th,.  The situation has hung over the Conservative party convention that took place this past weekend.  (As an aside, this convention was originally scheduled back in June in Calgary but was cancelled due to the floods, which ravaged much of Alberta.).

Why is this significant? Well, from a political standpoint while the scandal is a concern to many Canadians, it is an even bigger problem for the Conservative base which demands reform of the Upper Chamber. Stephen Harper’s mandate was to include senate reform, specifically, to introduce elections to make the Senate a more accountable and democratic institution, something which the PM has yet to do. However, the government has posed several questions on senate reform to the Supreme Court of Canada. From a political point of view, the PM would like to see the suspension of the senators and finally put an end to a pretty negative news cycle to show his political based that he has handled the problem appropriately.

What is concerning to some about this motion, however, is the absence of basic legal principles that numerous commentators and even other senators have pointed out, includes lack of due process (that constitutionally guaranteed legal rights are respected, that procedures be fair and the outcome be determined by an impartial judge). Moreover, there is also concern that taking the step to suspend the senators interferes with the on-going criminal investigation undertaken by the RCMP.

Passing a motion to suspend the senators presumes their guilt, something which, though appearing likely, hasn’t been established in a court of law (hence the on-going RCMP investigation). This sets a dangerous precedent (or legal practice) for dealing with so-called ‘troublesome’ senators. Moreover, that a parliamentary institution so quickly and arbitrarily ignores the constitutional rights of lawmakers is problematic. In a democracy these institutions are meant to protect and ensure our rights. To pointedly ignore the rights of their own colleagues makes one wonder if they would ignore the law (particularly the supreme law of the land – the constitution) and the legal rights of ordinary Canadians as well.

Each of the senators had an opportunity to make statements in the senate over the past few weeks. Statements by Duffy and Brazeau in particular, have been especially harmful to the Conservative party’s credibility – including the credibility and reputation of the Prime Minister, who Duffy claims knew about the expense issue back in February. The PM though denies knowing about it.

Senator Duffy and his attorney apparently possess evidence they’ve implied at least implicate staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in approving Duffy’s expense claims, in Nigel Wright (former Chief of Staff to the PM) writing Duffy a cheque for ninety thousand dollars and threatening Duffy.

The statements of Duffy and Wallin in the Senate chamber can be found here and here if you are interested in reading what they had to say.

None of the allegations made by Duffy about the PM have been proven at this point. A debate limiting motion introduced by the Tories has failed to pass and the saga in the senate chamber, which has so gripped a large segment of the country, continues.

For commentaries, opinions and information in these latest developments:

CBC’s “Mike Duffy vs. Stephen Harper on Senate expenses: a timeline”

 Kady O’Malley (CBC)

John Ivison (National Post)

Dan Den Tandt (National Post)

Canadian Press via Maclean’s

Andrew Coyne (Post Media)

 Huffington Post Canada senate tags

 Ottawa Citizen/ Vancouver Sun

 Montreal Gazette

 Chronicle Herald

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