Perhaps we can just shut down the Senate for 10 years and send the senators home on a leave of absence. Even if we continued to give them full pay, we'd still be financially further ahead. Since they'd be on hiatus for a decade, there would be no expense claims, no travel claims and few office expenses.
Consider me one of the millions of Canadians offended by the Senate spending scandal. But it's not for the reason you might think. The auditor general spent around $23 million on this investigation, and found less than $1 million in questionable expenses -- out of $180 million worth of expenses investigated. So we, the ever-patient, ever-indulgent taxpayers, spent $23 million to find out that 0.5 per cent of Senate expenses were questionable. Should we be outraged? Yes, by the dollar cost of the investigation and by the cost to the reputation of Canada's upper house.
The latest depressing revelations about the Senate make it clear that the institution cannot continue in its present form. The vast majority of Canadians now agree that reform or abolition of the Canadian Senate is overdue. It is time to bring the people of Canada into the centre of the process and directly consult Canadians on any proposal for constitutional reform through a consultative referendum.
Last week, the House of Commons passed (and sent to the Senate) Bill C-42, the ironically named Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, which would not only loosen controls on possession permits and transportation of handguns, but make it more difficult for the RCMP to ensure weapons prohibited by law remain out of the hands of civilians. Is it wishful thinking to ask whether, this time, the Senate will do its job and act to protect the public from a partisan self-serving and dangerous law designed to attract votes from a small minority?
More than anything, it leads me back to the bigger question of whether the Senate is relevant at all. In my work as a small business lobbyist, I've met dozens of senators over the years, and many are wonderful people who take their appointment seriously and try to take on important public policy issues or causes. But do the costs outweigh the benefits? And if we do need a Senate, is the current structure delivering?