THE BLOG

Whatever You Do, Do Not Accept a Senate Appointment

05/02/2014 08:44 EDT | Updated 07/02/2014 05:59 EDT
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Parliament buildings in Ottawa

It is going to happen sooner or later to an unsuspecting Canadian. Someone, perhaps you, is going to be asked to accept an appointment to the Senate of Canada. Do not, under any circumstances, accept. I used to believe that the Senate of Canada was a prestigious, honourable, though antiquated, institution. Now I see it as a dusty, treacherous trap just waiting to ensnare its next naïve Canadian.

Too dramatic? Hear me out. Are you, Sir or Madam, qualified to sit in the Senate? Seems like a simple question -- the powers that be would not have asked you to sit if you were not eligible. You check over the current rules regarding who is eligible to sit. Seems fine. Certainly if there were any vagueness regarding your eligibility, the Senate experts would make a determination and your appointment process would cease if you were deemed ineligible. Furthermore, if there ever were any question from the media about whether you may sit, certainly the Senate administration would handle it. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you are foolish enough to accept this appointment, have a good long meeting with your lawyer before you sign anything. Your lawyer can review the eligibility criteria and offer an informed opinion. Have him or her draft an agreement regarding how inquiries from the media, private citizens, or eager opposition politicians will be addressed. You do not want to be fighting questions about your constitutional eligibility to sit years into your term. As the politicians like to say -- let me be clear -- you are on your own to defend your right to sit. The Senate will not protect you. If you accepted an invitation to sit for a position to which you were not entitled, well, shame on you, you whiny, entitled fat cat. And best of luck with the media, they know your type. This unpleasantness can be avoided by a visit to your lawyer.

I hope you like your lawyer, because you are going to need to see her or him regularly. Have your lawyer review all policies, rules and regulations regarding expenses. Do not submit anything, no matter how small, to the Senate administration without the approval of your lawyer. You may laugh. The forms are simple! The rules are clear! You just have to be honourable and all will be well! The forms are so basic and self-explanatory, even a child could fill them out correctly. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Expenses are contested regularly in both the House of Commons and in the Senate of Canada. If the rules are so clear and following them so breathtakingly simple, why do the House's Board of Internal Economy and the Senate's Internal Economy committee spend so much time, behind closed doors, dealing with contested claims? Because, as in every other institution where there are rules, there can be differences in opinion about the interpretation of those rules. Your houses of parliament are no different. There are disputes which must be resolved. And given that this is public money, and the players are all politicians, there is a great deal of excitement and interest in these disputes.

If you are coming to your Senate seat from a field of work outside of politics, you may not be aware of some of the wonder and specialness of working in a politicized environment. It will be helpful to remember this: If someone can gain politically by suggesting you have broken a rule, they will do so. Further, please note that in politics, when you are told that "it's okay" or "we will manage it" or "don't worry about it" you should begin worrying very much! Any promises, explicit or implied, made in the National Capital Region should be understood to be null and void in the presence of sufficient media scrutiny.

So, let's say you have carefully read a given policy and are confident that you understand it perfectly. You wisely confirmed it with your lawyer. You are plainly acting within the rules. Sorry, darling. As it happens, the rules can be changed at any time and you can be found to be afoul of them without notice. So please be sure to have your lawyer draft an agreement regarding what will happen should the rules be changed and punishment meted out retroactively.

KPMG and Deloitte have both expressed great concern about the inadequacy and arbitrary nature of the Senate's policies and procedures. When the Auditor General releases his report, you can bet he will most heartily agree and share with Canadians his amazement at what happens when the inmates run the asylum.

To end on a positive note, there is one circumstance in which I would advise you to accept the offer coming your way. If the entire administration of the Senate is handed over to KPMG or Deloitte, and Honourable Senators deal only with legislation, and are forbidden to police each other, then I will support your appointment without the slightest hesitation. Congratulations on your appointment, Senator. Happy legislating!

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