The fraud and bribery trail of suspended Canadian Senator Mike Duffy is now into its third week.
Duffy, the man who was once a political commentator for CTV News and was appointed as a Senator at the request of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2009, is now facing 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust, bribery and frauds on the government, all related to allegedly inappropriately claimed Senate expenses. Suspended Senators Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin were also appointed along with Duffy to the Senate at the request of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
On the fifth day of the trial we learned Duffy used public dollars to frame pictures of his family members and ordered for photos to be sent to former American first lady Barbara Bush.
The saga began in late 2012, when four Senators: Duffy, Mac Harb, Wallin and Brazeau allegedly claimed travel and housing expenses, which were not eligible.
Duffy was accused of claiming a primary residence outside of Ottawa in order to backhandedly claim living expenses for working in Ottawa, along with other expenses, totaling $90,172.
In February of 2013, a Senate committee determined Duffy, Wallin, Harb and Brazeau would be subject to an audit to gauge the appropriateness of their expense claims made with public dollars. After weeks of public and media scrutiny, Duffy paid back the expenses he claimed for his Ottawa residence, citing that the Senate rules on expenses were unclear. It was then revealed he allegedly received a personal cheque from the Prime Minister’s Office from Nigel Wright to repay the public dollars from his expense claims. In May 2013 the RCMP were brought in to investigate Duffy’s pattern of spending, not only for his living expense claims, but also expenses claimed from a vacation and election campaign costs. RCMP laid the 31 charges on Duffy in July 2014.
As the current trial evolves, it continues to highlight a larger issue with the current set up of the Senate — mismanagement of public tax dollars.
The Upper Chamber was designed by Sir John A. Macdonald and the fathers of confederation to act as a “sober second-thought;” to act in effect as a controlling and regulating aspect of the government. The current Senate consists of 105 members, give or take, all who are appointed by the Governor General upon the advice of the prime minister. Seats are assigned regionally and Senators can serve in the Upper Chamber until they are 75.
The approval of both houses, both the lower House of Commons and the Upper House of Parliament, is necessary for legislation, meaning before any federal bill is passed, the Senate has the ability, along with the Governor General to reject bills already passed by the House of Commons which is filled with elected officials. So, when’s the last time we’ve even heard of a bill passed by the House of Commons not receiving Royal assent?
According to the Parliament of Canada web site, from 1867 to 1927, approximately 180 bills did not receive Royal Assent by being either rejected by the Senate or receiving amendments. As the years progress, the number of bills rejected by the Senate continues to decrease. Now in the 21st century, it’s virtually unheard of but does on rarity occur.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, in 2010, the Senate rejected the Climate Change Accountability Act. The bill involving greenhouse gas regulation was a mandate to commit the nation to a 25% reduction of emissions by 2020. The bill was successfully passed by all parties in the House of Commons, but was dead in the water when it came to the Senate.
So it begs the question, do Canadians continue to support such an ineffective branch of government?
It’s clearly time to roll up that red carpet for good and abolish the Canadian Senate. It’s time to channel the funds spent on Senators’ various expenses and the operations of the red chamber towards much-needed aspects within our nation’s social structure.