This Isn’t Tombstone & Stephen Harper Ain’t Wyatt Earp
When I look at the NDP I remember the old saying, the more we throw mud, the more we lose ground.
Here we go again. Can this unbelievable farce over senate expenses sink any lower? It is already lower than gutter politics – it’s becoming a sordid and sleazy affair that is beginning to make AdScam look like a misdemeanor. AdScam was merely about stolen money. This current scandal is becoming less about expenses and more about the absolute abuse of power and the assault on our democratic institutions.
The story changes almost daily now and with each new revelation come new attempts to sell the unsalable.
The Prime Minister even took to the airwaves today in an attempt to justify his actions to oust Senators Wallin, Brazeau and Duffy as if he has the authority to treat them like they are merely his employees.
This entire mess stared when questions arose over the claim of residency expenses by Senator Mike Duffy. You will recall how quickly the government defended the Senator and that defense continued even after he was ordered by the Prime Minister to repay the money – the now famous $90,000. I still remember Pierre Polievre rising in the House to claim that the good Senator had done the honourable thing and repaid the money.
When it came to light that the money to repay the expenses had come from the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, it changed the entire scandal. Now it was no longer about repaying expenses to which the Senator may or may not have been entitled; now the issue was whether or not the Prime Minister or at least his office, had orchestrated the payment in direct violation of the law.
At first, the Prime Minister defended Nigel Wright for having given the money to Senator Duffy and that he had full confidence in his Chief of Staff. When that didn’t quell the growing scandal, he accepted “with great regret” Nigel Wright’s resignation.
He went on to say that Mr. Wright had acted on his own and told no one else. We now know that at least 13 other people, including his office’s lawyer and others in the PMO, knew about the payment to Senator Duffy.
The payment made by Nigel Wright may turn out to be not only inappropriate but illegal and yet we are expected to believe that the PMO’s lawyer did not counsel against making the payment or advise the Prime Minister of the potential violation of the law.
Then it was Pamela Wallin’s turn.
She was audited but against new expense regulations that were not in effect when she incurred and claimed her expenses. The new rules were applied retroactively which is not only unfair, it’s just downright unethical. How can anyone be held accountable for something that became wrong only after they committed the act?
Nonetheless, when questions about her expenses were raised, the Prime Minister rose in the House to state that he personally had reviewed her expense claim and found them to be in order. Apparently he sees no incongruity in hanging her out to dry now even though he personally never found anything wrong with her expense claims using the old rules that were in place at the time she made them.
Ultimately, Senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin were removed from the Conservative caucus and all three ordered to repay the ineligible expenses they had claimed. The RCMP were called in to investigate for possible criminal wrong doing and the Auditor General called in to audit all remaining senators.
The matter should have rested there with the investigating bodies being allowed the required time to do their work and make decisions about charges but, of course, it didn’t.
The Prime Minister decided to use the Conservative majority in the Senate to remove the Big 3 – to suspend them without pay before the investigations were completed or any charges have been laid.
By what right? While an argument can be presented that a Prime Minister may have some authority over the Senators from his own party, no argument can be made that he has any authority over the Senate or to demand that it discipline senators that are not in his party.
Senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin may have been Conservative senators but no longer. They are now independent and the Prime Minister should have absolutely no control over them or the disciplining of them. The Senate is not part of his government nor is it under his control.
And that my friends changed this from being an administrative issue about expenses to an issue of abuse of power and the trampling of the basic rights of due process and presumption of innocence.
Who’s telling the truth? None of us know, we just think we do. This has been handled more poorly than my last proctology examination and with about the same result.
It is an issue that should have been left to the determination of the investigating authorities. Instead, it has become a polarizing issue that is dividing Canadians and conservatives alike.
Conservative Senator Don Plett stood in opposition to the motion and Senator Plett is not a casual voice. He is the founding former president of the Conservative Party of Canada, a staunch supporter of Stephen Harper and he is troubled by the lack of due process and the trampling of the right to presumption of innocence. He has announced that he will likely vote against the motion to suspend. He is joined by other Conservative voices including Senator Hugh Segal.
It was leaked today that Senators like Senator Plett and Hugh Segal my be given a pass to vote their conscience but that the balance of the Conservative Senate Caucus will be whipped to ensure the motion to suspend carries.
There’s nothing like a keeping your thumb on the scales of justice to make sure they come down in your favour.
What I find even more troubling is that one of the sponsors of the motion, Senator Stewart Olsen is now under investigation for exactly the same thing for which she is pushing to have Senators Wallin, Brazeau and Duffy suspended. Yesterday, she was thrown under the bus and had to resign from her position on the Board of Internal Economy.
None of this, of course, disturbs the party faithful. They turn a blind eye to the incongruities just as Justin Trudeau supporters turn a blind eye to his lack of experience and policy initiatives.
But regardless of what the willfully blind wish to believe, this is politics at its worst and makes a mockery of our democracy and our parliament.
And today it got worse.
Today, Senator Patrick Brazeau stood in the Senate and revealed that he had been offered a deal for a lesser ‘sentence’ by Senate Conservative Leader, Claude Carignan who is the prime mover to suspend the three senators.
The terms of the deal are irrelevant. What is relevant is that Senator Carignan could not deny the conversation although he did try to characterize it a little less bluntly. He admitted that he had suggested Brazeau apologize in exchange for a lighter sanction than the one being proposed to “find the right balance.”
Why wouldn’t he offer the same ‘deal’ to Senator Wallin? It’s not like she’s some chippie that walked in off the street and decided to help herself to the all you can eat expense buffet. Senator Wallin is a cancer survivor; a former Consul General to the United States and a Member of the Order of Canada, as well as being, an honorary colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force. But even though she was audited unfairly by rules that were not in existence when she filed her expense claims, no deal was offered to her.
So much for consistent application of principle. It’s clear that the government was trying to get an admission of wrong doing on the record to try and legitimize the rush to judgment.
Conviction before charged; sentence before conviction. This whole sorry mess has more in common with the former Soviet Union than a modern democratic nation like Canada.
Conservative senators who vote for this motion can attempt to legitimize their support as defending the dignity of the Senate all they like but the Canadian electorate isn’t fooled. They see it for what it is; a desperate attempt by the Prime Minister to distance himself and his party from the scandal by throwing former colleagues he himself appointed under the bus of self-righteous sanctimony. Senators who lack the courage to defend the independence and the integrity of the Senate by rejecting the demands of the PM reduce themselves to little more than trained seals doing the bidding of their master.
They will discover soon enough that in Stephen Harper’s world, loyalty is strictly a one-way street and that since becoming Prime Minister, he has thrown more Conservatives under the bus than Liberal and NDP combined.
The story on this scandal has changed repeatedly. The double dealing that started with a pathetic and possibly illegal attempt to cover everything up continues with a new deal offered today. This is no longer simply about an inept handling of a serious issue. This is about integrity and fairness.
It is also about the arbitrary exercise of power with a complete disregard for our political institutions, our democracy or due process and the presumption of innocence. It is the kind of sanctimonious and hypocritical political manipulation and grandstanding conservatives accuse Liberals of doing only this time – it’s conservatives!
In the Speech From the Throne, the Conservative government tossed a few trinkets to Canadians in an attempt to buy middle class support and votes. It should now be clear to Stephen Harper that a majority of Canadians are not so easily bought. Nobody is talking about the Throne Speech but just about everyone is talking about his handling of these three Senators. While his heavy-handed lynch mob justice approach may appease some of the party faithful, it offends the moral sensibilities of most Canadians because most Canadians believe in decency and fair play.
Stephen Harper was right about one thing though; we do lose ground when we throw mud and he should know. In the past decade, nobody has thrown more mud at opponents and former colleagues alike than he has and it is dividing conservatives and has severely weakened the conservative movement in Canada. The Conservative Party is bleeding support to the Liberals and the Liberals haven’t even entered the game yet.
If Stephen Harper truly wants to clean things up he would do well to start with his own attitude and his office rather than trying to delude himself into believing that the Senate is Tombstone in the 1800s and he’s Wyatt Earp.
© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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