PM’s accountability at heart of scandal

Disgraced Conservative senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin are giving old, fat journalists a bad name.

Disgraced Conservative senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin are giving old, fat journalists a bad name.

The pair of former CTV talking heads has joined the growing list of senators who have been forced to the sidelines during an examination of their possible criminal behaviour. Duffy, Senator Patrick Brazeau (C) and Senator Mac Harb (L) were all audited for their housing claims; Wallin is being audited for a complex shoebox of receipts totalling $375,600 that combine housing and travel expenses. To make matters worse, in an unrelated matter, Brazeau has been charged with sexual assault.

Duffy left the Conservative caucus May 16, claiming the issue had become a “significant distraction” to the government; Wallin “recused” herself from the caucus on Friday; and to take one for the team, the PM’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned May 19 after admitting he maybe shouldn’t have written a personal cheque to Duffy so he could repay more than $90,000 in housing expenses falsely claimed. The ethics commissioner will earn her pay this month.

Who knows what will have happened before this edition of the Rimbey Review hits the streets.

Duffy obfuscated the truth about his official residence; whether he should repay the $90,000; when he repaid it; where he got the money; whether it was a gift or a loan from “an old friend”; whether Wright actually is “an old friend”; and what favour was expected in return for this gift or bribe?

The Senate has determined he was not eligible to claim the housing expenses to travel from his home in PEI because, quite simply, Duffy doesn’t live in PEI. Hasn’t for decades. Perhaps the prime minister should have checked the Cavendish, PEI phonebook to see if there was a listing for Duffy, Michael Dennis before anointing him as a senator from PEI.

Appointed to be telegenic shills for the Conservative party, celebrities Duffy and Wallin have also been called out by opposition MPs for billing taxpayers for the time they spent campaigning on behalf of Conservative candidates in the 2011 federal election. While that might not be listed in a senator’s official job description, that kind of double-dipping has been given a blind eye in Ottawa. Sometimes it seems a party’s senators are appointed to be campaigners and cheerleaders rather than legislators.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has no one to blame but himself for this latest Senate scandal as he alone made the choice to appoint these hacks to the Red Chamber. Duffy and Wallin were once fine journalists but like many of their neighbours in the Senate, have never been elected to public office. The Senate is littered with the bodies of washed up Canadian hockey players, musicians, journalists and party bagmen who never put their name on a ballot. Harper is attempting piecemeal reform of the Senate and another scandal might just tip the scales of public opinion in favour of abolition.

In his speech to caucus May 21, Harper endorsed fast-tracking changes to Senate expense accounts and to close loopholes. But Senate reform is not necessary to prevent further repeats of this expenses scandal — simply make senators’ expense claims public; allow the auditor and |RCMP to do their jobs without political interference.

Harper told his colleagues: “I’m very upset about some conduct we have witnessed, the conduct of some parliamentarians and the conduct of my own office.” He took no responsibility, meted out no punishment, took no prisoners. Then he slipped off to a waiting plane for South America.

What did the prime minister know about this backroom deal to cover Duffy’s improper expense claim and when did he know it? Did Harper, a master of micro-management, approve of the payment?

Duffy said May 23 he would be “happy to cooperate” with anyone investigating the scandal and that he has given no thought to resigning.

The Conservatives under Harper promised an accountable government and presented themselves as holier than Liberals but in this case it seems that sense of entitlement crosses all party lines.

— Off the Record