Duffy Trial Day 4: What We’ve Learned
Parliament is more than procedure – it is the custodian of the nation’s freedom
The first week of testimony at the Mike Duffy trial is over and we have learned much while learning very little at all.
We’re no closer to knowing what is meant by a senator’s primary residence when determining his or her eligibility to sit in the Senate because primary residence can mean whatever the Senator and the appointing Prime Minister want it to mean at the time.
We’re no closer to knowing the rules governing what constitutes allowable expenses because there are no rules. Rules are for those who have no honour and are senators not called ‘honourable’? But of course they are and therefore each is accorded the latitude to determine for themselves just exactly what constitutes a legitimate expenditure.
We learned that neither the Clerk of the Senate nor the Senate’s Law Clerk have the authority to disallow a senatorial expense. They can merely advise. It is left to the Board of Internal Economy to decide what is or is not legitimate and the Board of Internal Economy is comprised solely of honourable senators who apply neither consistent criteria nor clear ethical standards to their decisions.
It’s like trusting a group of binge eaters to protect a chocolate factory and expecting no chocolate to go missing.
We did learn that the Senate’s chubby cherub took notes that are quite revealing about the priority that politics takes over governance. We also learned that he devoted the bulk of his time to partisan political activity and charged the taxpayers of Canada for his expenses. By all accounts he was in high demand by all and sundry in Conservative ranks – particularly by the Prime Minister who was effusive in his praise of the Old Duff’s efforts on behalf of the Conservative Party.
“To Duff, a great journalist and a great senator. Thanks for being one of my best, hardest-working appointments ever!” –Stephen Harper to Mike Duffy
We have also learned that partisan political activity is the priority for most senators. They are, for the most part, self-important partisan hacks who devote considerable time to fund raising for their party and campaigning for various candidates running for election.
If you follow the media or read any of the commentary on social media, it becomes clear that it is also being reaffirmed that an overwhelming majority of people treat the Duffy trial as a partisan issue rather systemic. “The Liberals did it too” is their best defence which isn’t much of a defence at all. It’s like a bank robber telling the judge he’s not guilty because others have also robbed banks.
For many in politics; getting away with something is accepted as meaning they have not violated either the specifics or the intent of whatever rules exist. Despite how low the ethical bar they have set for themselves, there are many in the political class who are incapable of rising to meet it.
It isn’t partisan, or at least shouldn’t be; it is systemic and Senator Duffy isn’t the first Senator to face criminal charges for abuse of privilege and misuse of public funds nor is he the first senator to be suspended from sitting in the Senate.
Liberal Senator Raymonde Lavigne was banned from the Senate in 2006 and forced to repay more than $23,000 of senate expenses he had misappropriated for personal use. In 2007 he was charged with fraud by the RCMP and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to six months in prison and an additional six months of home detention.
Senator Lavigne was treated as a ‘one of’ by his Senate colleagues and the government of the day; an aberration but clearly he was not.
Currently there are three senators facing criminal charges including Mike Duffy. Liberal Senator Mac Harb and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau have both been charged with fraud and breach of trust. Suspended senator Pamela Wallin is currently under investigation and could very well face criminal charges in the near future.
There were calls (ignored by the Senate leadership) for an investigation into the activities of Liberal Senator Pana Merchant whose husband Tony Merchant is alleged to have set up off-shore accounts to shelter money from Canada Revenue Agency.
Conservative Senator Carolyn Stewart-Olsen was required to repay housing expenses she had claimed under pretty much the same circumstances as Mike Duffy. She, however, remains a senator and was one of the senators who voted for Duffy’s suspension.
More than forty senators have received letters from Canada’s Auditor General demanding further documentation and explanation of reimbursed expense claims and noble senators are outraged by the interference by the people’s auditor.
It isn’t just a Senate issue, however. The problem is the corruption of the political class in this country and the complete abrogation of ethical behaviour, principle and its responsibility to the people it claims to serve.
Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien instituted legislation which saw taxpayers annually provide money to political parties based on the number of votes they received in each election. The excuse used was to reduce, even remove, a reliance on third-party political funding. It was nothing more than the illusion of protecting our democratic process from undue influence while continuing to ensure that political parties would have access to a continuous flow of money.
Stephen Harper phased out the program which was a good thing but it hasn’t really changed much because the root cause of political corruption, a lack of ethical standards, has remained unchanged.
In Canada, a donor gets a larger tax write-off for a donation to a political party than to a charity and that tax write-off is just one more transfer of the cost to all taxpayers. We have a ‘do not call’ list in Canada to prevent telemarketers from harassing us but it does not apply to political parties which have granted themselves the right to constantly beg for money by whatever means is necessary.
The same politicians that are imposing increasingly onerous conflict of interest rules on the civil service, refuse to impose them on themselves. The same politicians that have dithered on cost of living increases for senior public servants for almost two years, just awarded themselves a 2% + salary increase.
In the end, it always comes back to the same thing. The political class always looks after itself first. It has become a world unto itself. Their business is their business and we are forced to finance it regardless of our political leanings or affiliations. Promises to reform it are made but never kept.
Whichever party is in power will use our money to promote itself. Between the former Liberal government and the current Conservative administration, a couple of billion of our tax dollars have been spent promoting themselves before elections.
Money is handed out to corporate welfare bums by all governments in return for political support.
The world in which politicians live is paid for by us and in the end, we blame the poor, special interest groups, unions, public servants, charities; anyone and everyone but those who are responsible — the political class.
We may see ourselves as dedicated partisans but the political class sees us as sheep to be sheared. Our political support is only important during an election after which our ability to pay is more important than our political support.
None of that has been discussed at the Duffy trial, of course, and it won’t be. The trial is just one more stage show to provide the appearance of propriety and adherence to some kind of moral standard. But there is no standard and the meaning of the word honourable has been eroded to little more than an empty title, just one more illusion in a profession that is all about illusion.
Whatever the outcome of the Duffy trial, little will change because we won’t demand change. Many of us will rally around ‘our’ party. We will castigate the defendant of the day and congratulate ourselves and whoever it is we support on a job well done. We will congratulate them and tell ourselves that all will be well – and it will. . .until the next time.
John Diefenbaker is turning over in his grave.
Day 2: The Trial, Taxes and Semantics
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