In anticipation of the next federal election, the Conservatives launched an ad campaign last September with the less-than-inspiring slogan, "We're better off with Harper." No expression of grand ideas for Canada. No glorious visions for our national future.
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?
Sadly, too many public officials are all too eager to scam taxpayers and charge fraudulent expenses. That is especially true if they feel they are accountable to no one. Accountability begins with transparency. After all, you can't judge a person's actions if you don't know what they've done. Just as companies are accountable to their owners and shareholders, so elected officials are accountable to their citizens and taxpayers.
This trial is going to be a long, drawn-out examination of the prime minister's role and vast influence. Harper will take blows from both sides. The Crown has already said it believes Duffy wasn't qualified to sit in the Senate -- that the former CTV journalist and longtime Ottawa resident didn't meet the basic residency requirement to represent his native Prince Edward Island and that he should never have been appointed to the upper house. So why did Harper appoint Duffy?
Why hasn't my Facebook feed filled with at least the same level of indignation about our government's disgraceful treatment of our Veterans as it was about the a tobogganing hill? We must learn to calibrate our anger so it's proportional to the injustice or slight. Let's fight for the things that make life fun for us like tobogganing while also fighting the things that make life miserable such as payday loan companies, multinational corporations, venture capitalists, a failed War on Terrorism and the self-serving hacks in the media and government who enable it all.
It's a terribly sad day for Parliament when a member of the Senate gets hauled before the criminal courts to face 31 charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. The formal trial of Mike Duffy is about to begin. The damage Duffy has done flows directly from the fact that he was a duly appointed Senator. So who put him there? Who gave him that position? Stephen Harper cannot escape responsibility. He demonstrated enormously bad judgment in making Duffy a Senator. Canadians need their Prime Minister to provide fulsome, accurate answers.
I'll leave it to others to sort through the constitutional implications of what Justin Trudeau did this week. But I want to comment on what Justin's move did for his "brand", because that's my expertise. Trudeau's naysayers attack him as vacuous. He's a nice guy -- but where's the beef? Well, Trudeau just showed substance and leadership.
The Canadian press has been offering no shortage of year-in-review columns as of late. What's my pick for top story of 2013, you ask? I don't know if I have a headline per se, but I do have a theme: the decline of Brand Canada. If there's one thing Justin Trudeau, Rob Ford, and the Senate scandal have in common, after all, it's that they all prove, in different ways, that Canada is not nearly as serious, respectable, and mature of a country as we often like to believe.
In the world of Canadian politics, 2013 was one of those years where interesting things seemed perennially on the brink of happening, but rarely did. 2014, in short, will be a year that spends a lot of time providing closure to the unanswered questions of 2013. My guess is there'll be a lot of "no's." Here are some predictions.
Like many, I think King Harpernicus could have handled this whole expense mess in the Uppity Chamber better. There's been rhetorical flourishes, sure,...
Back in June Canadians were more likely to say they would judge the Prime Minister based on his economic stewardship rather than his handling of the Senate expense controversy. Four months later, Canadian opinion has flipped. Fifty one per cent of Canadians said the Senate expense controversy was more important than his record in promoting an environment for job creation.
A fair compromise concerning pay for suspended senators and other politicians would be to establish a rule that if a politician is found guilty of the alleged violation, they would be required to return any pay received after the allegation was first made.
If Duffy is willing to spend day after day squawking on the Senate floor that the Harper government has "no moral compass" then the least he can do, as a gentleman similarly lacking that device, is set a good example and resign from the chamber Professor McCreery says is supposed to consist only of "honourable" persons.
For all the Duffys, Harpers, Harbs, Wallins and Brazeaus, there are the quiet, reasoned and compassionate voices of the Segals, Dallaires and Cowans, and, yes, the Munsons, fighting for the humanity of Canadians instead of the loyalty of their base. They have tackled the political order in both houses and in every party to restore this country's image in the world.
The majority of hardworking Canadians don't give to two figs about the personal trials and tribulations of three Senate politicos pigging out at the public trough. Most Canadians, earn nowhere near the annual $130,000 salary of the senators. We should strongly urge Prime Minister Harper to slash each senator's annual salary to $65,000. 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 two tier gold-plated health care coverage. Each senator will have the benefit of the same health care coverage as average Canadians.
The real scandal of politics at present is not about a number of high profile, well-attired, and well-trained political elite caught in scanda. The true victims in this very moment are all those Canadians seeking work, lining up at food banks, hoping for better Veteran's benefits, the hundreds of Aboriginal women gone missing and presumed deceased, those waiting for extensive times in emergency rooms, and those on the wrong side of the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country. They look in vain to both Houses of Parliament for a proper addressing of their circumstances.