THE BLOG

Senators Need Fewer Dollars and More Sense

10/28/2013 05:04 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

This past week we watched the pathetic attempts by Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau to desperately hang on to their overly generous Senate salaries and benefits.

For the past year we have read and heard allegations that these three senators, in addition to drawing $130,000 annual salaries, improperly claimed thousands of dollars of public taxpayer money for living and travel expenses.

As the revelations of these questionable expenditures were publicly disclosed, the reputations of these three senators, especially former media stars Duffy and Wallin, gradually shrunk before our very eyes.

Duffy claimed he was a victim of a conspiracy and a scheme.

Duffy also stooped to play the health card, claiming that he suffered from a serious heart ailment and was probably too sick to attend the Senate to defend himself.

Notwithstanding his claim of serious heart illness, Duffy somehow made a miraculous recovery and did in fact attend the Senate hearing. And he did give a very vigorous and full-throated defense of his actions, including his desire to hold on to his gold-plated supplementary health care benefits.

Wallin claimed that although she made mistakes, she too was a victim of backroom politics. She too stooped to play the health card, by seeking Senate sympathy on the basis that she was a cancer survivor and she needed her gold-plated Senate health care benefits to survive.

Note that as an Ontario resident, Wallin, even without her gold-plated health benefits as a senator, would still enjoy very affordable and excellent care under the current OHIP system.

I am not unsympathetic to Wallin's health issues. But thousands of Canadian women annually suffer from cancer, unfortunately. And they do not have the luxury of being covered by the more comprehensive gold-plated health benefits that the senators enjoy.

Why should Senator Wallin, be treated any better by our public healthcare system, than the majority of Canadians who share her fate? What gives her the right to think that she is more deserving and more entitled to better care than the majority of other Canadian women who are suffering from cancer, or are cancer survivors?

Brazeau also claimed that he was a victim of the system -- that is, imprecise Senate rules -- in that he was not treated fairly. But nonetheless, he exploited the system to his apparent financial benefit.

After witnessing the public displays of these greedy, self-centred individuals, I am reminded of the great Humphrey Bogart, in the classic film, Casablanca.

To paraphrase:

"It doesn't take much to see that the Senate problems of three little people don't amount to a Parliamentary Hill of beans in this crazy mixed up world."

Political pundits Coyne, Hebert and Anderson of CBC's "At Issue Panel," please take note.

What Bogart so wisely suggests is that the majority of hardworking Canadians, don't give two figs about the personal trials and tribulations of three Senate politicos pigging out in the public trough. And neither should the Ottawa-centric political analysts, the Harper-hating liberal media and the opposition NDP and Liberals.

(Of course, the opposition NDP and Liberals are more concerned about trying to embarrass Harper and the Conservatives, over this faux-Senate expense scandal, for political advantage, than trying to deal with day to day economic matters that affect millions of Canadians struggling to make ends meet. But that is "Ottawatown," Jake.)

The struggling senators in Ottawa (the politicos, not the hockey team) from both parties, do not appreciate, that the more this expense scandal is prolonged, the more the reputation of all the senators and the whole Senate is diminished.

As long as the opposition Liberal senators and some Red Tory senators, wish to continue investigating and debating this expense scandal, that is "rag the puck," the popular push to abolish the Senate or render it even more irrelevant to the Canadian public, will accelerate nation-wide.

The majority of hardworking Canadians live from paycheque to paycheque. They are either on salary, commission or run their own small business. Most Canadians are just worried about paying the rent, making the mortgage and car lease payments and providing for their children.

Most Canadians, earn nowhere near the annual $130,000 salary of the senators. Nor do most Canadians have the additional benefits of fancy expense accounts, living allowances, travel expenses and souped-up health care.

I maintain that a majority of Canadians believe the current public cost of paying senators and maintaining the Senate and its infrastructure, is not justified by the work of the senators or their actual contribution to Canadian public life.

Despite Harper's efforts to reform the Senate, it is unlikely that the Senate will ever be fundamentally reformed or even abolished, given the constitutional requirement of the approval of seven provinces representing over 50 per cent of the Canadian population.

In light of these constitutional roadblocks, we as Canadians should engage in some sober second thought about the Senate.

Accordingly, we should strongly urge Prime Minister Harper to slash each senator's annual salary to $65,000 per annum. To avoid any funny business, no senator will be entitled to any additional living, travel or personal expense benefits.

In addition, no senator will be entitled to the benefits of any extra special healthcare coverage.

Each senator will have the benefit of the same healthcare coverage as average Canadians.

Any senator who has a problem with this form of compensation? Tough. Welcome to the real world.

Here is a radical thought: Try living on just your fixed Senate income, paid for by our hard-earned tax dollars.

I believe that this proposal will send a clear message from the Canadian people to the senators, that a Senate appointment is an honour and a privilege and not a right and an entitlement.

These senators should no longer be entitled to their entitlements.

Key Senate Scandal Quotes