The Senate: An affront to democracy

This is a guest column; ‘Mihael Willman’ is the pseudonym for a concerned Canadian – JG.

by Mihael Willman

“If you live somewhere for decades and then claim a residence you only visit occasionally as your principal residence, then your comprehension of the English language leaves much to be desired”  – and – “Wallin is entitled to health benefits (she had an OHIP card even though she claims that her permanent residence is in Saskatchewan)…”

At the beginning of 2013, no-one could have dreamed that the spending scandal in the senate could possibly become even more of a farce then it was. But with each passing day, it’s becoming clearer that many in the Senate just don’t live in the same world as the rest of us.

Listening to the three senators, Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, who face possible suspension without pay from the senate, defend themselves and their actions before their colleagues has been a total farce.

Mike Duffy began his appeal against his suspension by trying to elicit sympathy, claiming that the “unrelenting stress“ of the last few months had worsened his heart condition. Clearly, if he is suffering from a heart condition, then he should never have accepted the appointment to the Senate in the first place. Nor should he have engaged in questionable spending practises either.

$90,000 for improperly claimed living allowance may not be all that much money in the grand scheme of things, but it is just another example of appointed, or elected, officials believing they can do as they please with taxpayers’ money. While Duffy claims that he did nothing wrong, probably because other senators do the same thing, or because the rules were confusing, then he should never have been appointed in the first place. If you live somewhere for decades and then claim a residence you only visit occasionally as your principal residence, then your comprehension of the English language leaves much to be desired. Something a life-long journalist simply can’t claim and keep a straight face.

And the improper housing allowance is not Duffy’s only questionable act. He is also under investigation for paying a friend to do little or no work in return for thousands of dollars, double-billing the Senate for partisan political trips and who knows what else. For someone who yearned for decades to be appointed to the Senate, Duffy probably felt that he had to make up for lost time. Especially if he was forced to keep his promise to vote for Senate reform, including the reduction of senate terms.

The entire speech was an attempt to make him appear as the victim of a vendetta by the PMO and the Conservative caucus in the Senate. And his acceptance of the senate appointment was not to take advantage of all that position provides, but rather “to build a better country; to use my experience as a journalist to help build a better PEI”. Suspension from the senate, in Duffy’s words would be “a serious violation of my human rights“.

Since his first appearance before the Senate, the accusations against leaders in the Conservative Party have grown, with new revelations every time he addresses his colleagues. Whether they are true or not, only time will tell. One thing is true, spending irregularities have been found, whether or not Duffy agrees that this is so.

When Pamela Wallin addressed the Senate, she went a step further, calling the process to suspend her and her two colleagues, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, as an “affront to Canadian democracy.”

There definitely is “an affront to Canadian democracy“ here, but not the way she thinks. The affront is because one individual in the person of the Prime Minister can appoint anyone he wants, whether personal friend, political hack or failed political candidate, to a body which does little or no work, while costing taxpayers millions. Anyone who believes that Canadians are getting value for their money from the Senate is probably in the minority.

Pleading the poverty card, she claimed that suspension would leave her “without pay, no resources or benefits, including no health benefits.”

Just what kind of gold-plated health benefits do Senators receive? As a Canadian citizen, Wallin is entitled to health benefits (she had an OHIP card even though she claims that her permanent residence is in Saskatchewan) just like every other citizen. Claiming that suspension from the Senate would deprive her of healthcare is misleading.

Rather than admitting that her travel expenses were excessive, and in some instances inappropriate, she accused other senators of leaking the information to the public and accused the news media of whipping up negative public opinion against her. She singled out Senators Marjorie LeBreton and Stewart-Olsen as responsible for the leaks because of their jealousy of her, and the fact that her “level of activity“ brought her to public attention and “once garnered the praise of the prime minister.”

A chamber of second thought? More like a scene from your local high school where girls are vying for first place in a popularity contest.

While suspension of the three senators appeared to be a done deal when the process began, the longer it drags out the more it appears that a number of their colleagues are becoming reluctant to take that step. Not because they might agree with the three senators under investigation, but probably because they fear that the same fate could await them should spending irregularities be found in their accounts.

MacHarb, who was found to have improperly claimed $230,000 in living expenses, repaid the money and then simply resigned, taking his gold-plated pension as a reward. According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, he is eligible to receive $122,989 immediately, though only 59 years of age, for his years in both the House and Senate. Canadian taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $2.5 million should he live to age 79!

Clearly, Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau have no intention of resigning under pressure, as none of them qualifies for a senate pension at this time.

To all the Prime Ministers who filled the Senate with their various appointees, thank-you for this heavy financial burden. While many pensioners are barely making ends meet after a life-time of work, senators are walking away with over-generous pensions after a minimum of six years of service!