In Canada, that is a question a lot of people have been asking for a long time. I don't know. Probably not. Most of us don't really know what they do and why we need them. If the Senate disappears we don't think there would be any great loss.
But lets suppose we do need it and should have it. Sober second thought and all that.
I still wonder if they are the sober second thought, was the first thought.... intoxicated? Probably. Based on the way that the Prime Minister and his many minions have handled this sorted and long lasting affair, it is clear that the bartender didn't cut them off in time for some sober thoughts of their own. But that is a problem to fix for another day. A much bigger problem than this.The Senate is the symptom. Not the cause. The cause is the people that put them there. And make no mistake. It stands now as it did then. When Harper took office the Prime Minister appoints all the Senators. And he still does. The buck stops there. Period. Full Stop.
But it was clear that one of the issues Harper hung his hat on when he first got elected was that the Senate needed to be reformed.
"The government preference, obviously, is for a reformed, for an elected senate...The Senate must change."
-Stephen Harper in 2007.
The problem is that we got a new Prime Minister, but nothing has changed. Some would even argue it has gotten much worse on Stephen Harper's watch. His watch. His people. His appointees. They are the majority of the problem.
To recap the latest scandal for those who aren't Canadians and those that are that don't follow the news.
-Senator Mike Duffy, a former media heavyweight and a senator appointed by Stephen Harper (the Canadian Prime Minister) was caught grossly and recklessly overspending and claiming expenses for the taxpayers to cover that were essentially against the rules. It is alleged that he did this on purpose, arrogantly with a sense of entitlement. He thought he could do that because he had the backing of the Prime Minister and in essence carte blance to do as he pleased, as long as he continued to bring in money, votes and supporters for the party. He was wrong. When it came time to take the fall, Harper decided Duffy was of no use anymore and at first his office tried to cover the whole thing up and make it go away. Because of that, Duffy was ordered to pay the money back.
-there is a difference of opinion on what happened next. But there is no dispute on what actually ended up happening. Nigel Wright, the Prime Ministers "fixer" and right hand man wrote a cheque for $90,000 to pay Duffy's money back. Wright, being very wealthy, could easily do that. Of course, in addition to this being very immoral and looking bad it is also illegal.
-Duffy claims that he didn't have the money to pay it back when ordered--and that he didn't do anything wrong in the first place--so he wasn't about to pay it back without a legal hearing. He now claims he was bullied into taking this money from Wright by Harper and his people in a closed room meeting. Harper disputes this. Wright has not said anything publicly about it. Either way, for the longest time, Duffy said nothing about any of that. So his credibility is suspect at best. But he does seem to have documents and emails to back himself up. Harper only has his good word and the alibi of people that are beholden to him. Who is telling the truth? Likely, neither of them. What we do know is that as time goes on, they both change their stories in some game of chicken pissing match to see who can win an ugly game of name calling. So far, Duffy seems to be winning. A hollow victory. At best, he has gone from rock star to down and out skid row has been. Harper is still the Prime Minister...for now.
"the cheques tell who is telling the truth and who is not."
-Senator Pamela Wallin, another former media heavyweight and darling and also a senator appointed by Stephen Harper was caught doing exactly what Duffy did, only for a lot more money. However, Wallin does have the funds to pay it back and while she also claims that she didn't do anything wrong-- and that any mistake was because she didn't know the rules and wasn't gaming the system--she decided to pay it all back herself. In spite of that, she was told to resign from the Conservative caucus in the Senate or they would remove her. To say she was not happy about that is a major understatement. It appears that even if she did the wrong thing at first she attempted to do the right thing to correct it. Nevertheless, she was scapegoated and thrown under the bus with Duffy.
"I was just told that they were speaking for the Prime Minister. No discussion. He wanted me gone. "
-Senator Patrick Brazeau, yet another senator appointed by Stephen Harper also has similar issues with his expenses that he claimed and billed to the government. He also has personal issues that have embarrassed the government and Harper for appointing him.
Brazeau now claims he was offered a backroom deal to admit he did take advantage of his position in exchange for an easier ride on punishment. Was he? Maybe. But there is no proof of that and while it is agreed on that he was spoken to before he made his claim and speech in the Senate it is not clear if there was a deal offered and he possibly may have misinterpreted it. However, nobody would put it past Harper to send anyone out to do that. See Nigel Wright.
Harper, all along, has maintained he had nothing to do with any of it. At least that is what he was saying. When Duffy came out last week and shocked the Senate and the nation with the allegations, Harper decided to stop dodging questions with his dodgy double talk and state very clearly,
"Mr. Duffy now says he is a victim, because I told him he should repay his expenses. You're darn right I told him."
The problem with that, of course, and the thing Harper fails to realize, is that the Senate is supposed to be a place of independent and sober second thought. Harper doesn't have the right or business to tell Duffy or anyone else what to do there. He thinks he does, but he doesn't. He has the right to appoint them. That is his job. A job he has done very poorly. Which of course assumes he intended to do it correctly. In reality, he appointed those that would serve his own needs, and not the needs of the people that elected him.
The Senate is supposed to be independent of the Prime Minister but we all know it doesn't work that way. He appoints the members and he can make sure the balance suits his own political and power interests. Because of that, he wanted this problem to go away and make him look like the hero in the meantime. He allegedly instructed the Senate house leader to suspend the three Senators (Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau) without pay and benefits. In essence, Duffy and Wallin (both very successful and former media heavyweights) claim he is throwing them under the bus to save his own reputation. Is he? Certainly. Does that absolve them of what they did? No.
But all of that isn't the big picture issue here.
"Eventually, you could run out of buses and the people to throw under them."
-Pamela Wallin paraphrasing Senator Hugh Segal.
Once you have run out of people to throw under the bus for your own incompetence, it is likely that bus will be there to run over you. And the ones that survive your bus throwing will be driving it.
Does the name Mike Duffy ring a bell?
And don't forget Pamela Wallin. She didn't get where she did by accident. She has major contacts and knows a lot of secrets that you probably don't want coming out.
The cows are coming home to roost now.
We don't want more elections. We have enough elections. We want those that we elect, elected, to do their jobs and do it well. That is what you are there for. Just as in the business world, we don't want to find all the employees for the company. That is the job the president and CEO is paid to do. He or she either sinks or swims on that task.
Now, Brazeau is basically backing the bus back up over you. If this whole affair proves one thing it is this: The senate is a minor problem. Our main problem, politically speaking is that the elected leader of our country isn't fit to run anything. He is horrific at his job and everyday it gets worse.
Instead of reforming the senate, we need to reform the house of commons.
"The Prime Minister appointed every one of these people. It should be statistically impossible to appoint that many train wrecks."
In addition to incompetence, it shows Harper has a complete lack of judgement. These are the 3 he viewed as the best candidates for sober second thought? They can't even follow spending rules, and yet they are the last bastion of hope for government business?
The most troubling of all this is the way that they were to be punished. In spite of it all, as of today, they are still guilty of nothing, yet they were to be suspended without pay and benefits. That is not something you would ever get away with in the private sector or really anywhere in our society. It is un- Canadian, yet, that is exactly what they were going to do. And no matter what you think of the senate, the senators and what they did or didn't do, that is not the way we do things. Or want to do things.
However, it is very much in line with what we have seen from Stephen Harper before. The dictator and bully that he is. We got what we paid for there.
It is punishment without due process.
"Blaming Mike Duffy for being the poster boy for everything that's wrong with the Senate is like blaming a horse for taking a whiz in the street. It's what they do. Nope, I blame the big guy. The Prime Minister of Canada is the greatest job in the world and with that job comes tremendous privileges. And one of them, no matter what you think of the Senate is that you get to choose who sits in the chamber of sober second thought."
It is Harpers problem. he created it. He appointed them all. His choice. His screwup. Nobody elses.
So I say to Steven Harper: We don't have a problem with an elected senate. We have a problem that our Prime Minister is a screw up.
As for Nigel Wright. So far, he is saying nothing. But Stephen Harper is saying plenty. Back when this first blew up in his face, Harper said Wright acted alone and that he resigned. Now it is clear that he didn't act alone, and that he was dismissed. Everyday, more comes out. Everyday, Harper changes his story.
Here is part of the story that isn't in dispute. Nigel Wright was chosen as the leader of the Prime Ministers office by the Prime Minister. As such, whatever he does while he works in your office is something you have to own. So, if he paid Duffy, you paid Duffy. Unless you told him not to and he went and did it anyway. Nobody has said that. Yet. Maybe Nigel Wright is the next victim to get thrown under the bus. If so, you can be sure Wright will get back up and assume the drivers seat and let Harper taste some rubber and asphalt himself. Just as Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau did this week.
"The Senate is not the problem. Lousy Senators are the problem. And there's a solution. Pick better Senators."
I would go one step further. We need to pick a better leader for our country. If we did that, we wouldn't have the Senate scandal in the first place. Fix the bigger problem and you wont have the lesser problem.