What we're learning about Canada's Senate

Posted 06.11.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | As the Senate expenses scandal ripples outward, and as surprising as is the venality of the few senators who've been caught, it is what we are learning about the Senate's operating rules that is most informative.

This is a genuine scandal. In any other jurisdiction, this would be a criminal matter.

Not only are false expense claims illegal, the amount of the claims -- at least what we know of them -- are well beyond what we might call clerical errors.

Elsewhere, Sen. Duffy's $90,000 would put him in the clink -- as well as him having to pay back the sum plus fines and interest. "Senator Duffy" may get away with merely repaying what he's apparently stolen, but a Mister Duffy who tried this on his income tax would not be treated so gently. We don't know the extent of Senator Wallin's excesses, nor of Senators Brazeau and Harb.

The fact that the RCMP and the Parliamentary Ethics Officer have been called in underlines its seriousness. Now the Prime Minister's Office is tangled up in it -- it is clearly illegal for any person, even Harper's right-hand man, to give any senator a "donation" of $90,000.

This has led to the discovery of a secret fund for unrecorded uses in the PMO -- and, apparently, within other parties as well. Where do these funds come from? There are plenty of leads for the police and ethics officer to follow, and we should expect more revelations.

At some point we're going to have to acknowledge that our Canadian parliamentary system isn't the near-perfect system we pretend it to be. To the rest of the world, we Canadians must appear the most self-deceiving people on the planet, but that's another, bigger topic.

We're getting a glimpse of the operating rules of our government, and the picture isn't inspiring. First vista: the operations of parliament (both houses) costs us roughly $500 million per year -- and this is not audited. That is absolutely outrageous. And absolutely unacceptable in a democracy under the rule of law.

Second, now that the three Tory and one Liberal senators have been caught with their hands in the till, the Tory government is proposing audits. But not for everyone. Mr. Harper's minions are proposing selective audits. Deciding who gets audited, selectively, sounds like exercising a political cruise missile.

The House, with three times the members, will not be audited at all. Why? When the auditors show up at our businesses, can we merely say, "no thanks," too?

Finally, and this is so slimy it's hard to believe, but there are no consequences in the Senate for breaking these laws. Democracy Watch points out that no penalties, no trials, no punishments, no jail time are accorded to senators by their own tribunals.

So all this baloney about tightening up the rules is merely more baloney, since there are no consequences.

A taxpaying citizen's only recourse would be to sue a senator in civil court. That's some democracy.


Copyright © 2013 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/06.13