Like so many Canadians, I am fed up with the entitlement attitude and the lack of rules in the Senate regarding travel and residency expenses. And, those lack of rules became apparent on April 21, 2016, when Justice Charles Vaillancourt found Senator Mike Duffy, not only “not guilty,” but “innocent” of 31 charges of defrauding the Senate — all related to expenses flagged by Auditor General Michael Ferguson in his June 2012 report.
Also related to Duffy’s acquittal, as of this week (May 23, 2016), the Crown has opted not to appeal the Duffy case and not to proceed against Senator Mac Harb. Similarly, the RCMP announced on their website that they have closed the Senate investigation regarding Senator Pamela Wallin. The case against Senator Patrick Brazeau, however, continues as of today’s date.
Let’s review what happened after Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were suspended in November 2013. According to this Wikipedia page, following a full study of Senator expenses in the winter and spring of 2015, AG Ferguson identified 30 senators whose claims he thought were inappropriate. Of those 30, he recommended 9 cases be referred to the RCMP, and 14 be allowed to opt for binding arbitration by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Ian Binnie.
Reality check. If you follow the chronology, there were two very different processes! Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were judged by their fellow Senators and suspended two years earlier for the exact same type of questionable expenses that others, over the 2015/16 period, have quietly repaid or accepted binding arbitration.
The worst of it, however, is that, in spite of the inconsistent treatment of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau, compared to the other Senators who were also found to have questionable expenses, the judging has not stopped.
As I wrote last week, for example, Senator Leo Housakos, Chair of the Senate Internal Economy Committee, wants to re-examine Duffy’s expenses dossier.
Now, fast forward to yesterday. CTV’s Steve Murphy sent out a tweet at 12:41pm: “Does public believe justice has been done in Duffy, Harb, Wallin cases? NS Senator Jim Cowan acknowledges probably not.”
Probably justice was not done? What on Earth can Senator Cowan mean considering that, as this CBC column states, he had to pay back $10,000 in disputed amounts himself.
Talk about hypocrisy!
At this point, the issue is not what is a legitimate Senate expense. The court already proved that it is the Senate’s unclear rules that is the problem. But, rather than admit the problem is within the Senate administration itself, Senators Housakos and Cowan seem to be alleging that it is only in the cases of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau that justice has not been done.
Is that simply because they don’t want to pay back the salary and benefits that those three have lost? If it is, I have no doubt the Senate’s fall session of 2016 is going to get very noisy and controversial.
The crux of the matter is this: No matter what past mistakes were made, all Senators should be treated equally. In 2013 three Senators were suspended without pay and pension benefits. In 2015, 14 Senators were allowed to go to arbitration without penalty. That clearly means that three Senators — Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau — were treated unfairly.
So, to put it bluntly, rather than continue to harass the suspended three, I would recommend Senators Housakos and Cowan put all their energies into making things equal and right.
And, I would also add, that making things right includes making all the Senate rules regarding travel and residency tougher and with accountability mechanisms built in. (Updated May 26th at 10:22am)