Monday, May 27, 2013

Is your Conservative Member of Parliament 'horrifically depressed?' Bloody good it's about time!

PM's Conservative caucus 'horrifically depressed' about Senate expenses scandal, brand takes big hit say Tories

But Conservatives say they won't be down indefinitely

By Bea Vongdouangchanh
Monday, May 27, 2013
The majority-governing Conservative caucus is “horrifically depressed” and “disappointed” that three of their Senators appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper are embroiled in an explosive housing and travel expense scandal that is putting a major blow to their brand and party, say Conservatives and political insiders.

“Caucus is horrifically depressed. They are more depressed than angry,” said one Conservative insider, who did not want to be identified. “It’s hurting the government, it’s a distraction. It’s hurting the Conservative brand and the party more than the government because it’s a fundamental to who we are as Conservatives. It’s a blow to the brand because we actually care. We came to Ottawa to fix this.”

Summa Strategies vice-president Tim Powers, a former Conservative ministerial staffer, said that morale in the Conservative caucus “is not great,” since the government has been hammered with the revelation that PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright gave PEI Conservative Senator Mike Duffy $90,172 to repay housing expenses he inappropriately claimed over the last four years. Mr. Wright has since resigned as chief of staff, and Senator Duffy has resigned from caucus. Two other Conservatives, Saskatchewan Senator Pamela Wallin and Quebec Senator Patrick Brazeau are also embattled in the expense scandal with Liberal Senator Mac Harb whose housing allowance claims were being audited. All three have resigned from their caucuses.

The Toronto Star reported on Friday that the Senate asked external auditors looking at Senator Wallin’s travel expenses to widen their investigation over concerns Senator Wallin was claiming refunds for activities unrelated to Senate business. The RCMP, meanwhile, is also looking into the Senate expenses scandal, along with Canada’s ethics commissioner and Senate ethics officer. The Senate’s Internal Economy Committee is also looking at it again. 

“It’s not great. I mean, people are angry, they’re frustrated, they’re disappointed, and, as the Prime Minister said in his news conference, it’s a whole range of emotion. I think many people, many Conservatives, feel let down, as do Canadians, by the actions of Mike Duffy and some of the alleged actions of the other Senators,” Mr. Powers told The Hill Times. “It’s this self-indulgent behaviour that can sink a government and people are aware of that. I mean, the Conservatives got elected to change the way things are done, not to become entitled-to-my-entitlement Liberals. So, when people see what Mike Duffy allegedly did, that makes them angry.”

Mr. Powers said from his conversations with MPs, Senators, and staffers, Conservatives are upset with the whole issue and have been unified in condemning what happened, even though the communications strategy kept changing almost daily when the news of Mr. Wright’s involvement first broke on May 14.

“This behaviour is just not acceptable. It’s below the standards that the Conservative Party has set for themselves and Canadians, and it’s got to be dealt with and eradicated,” Mr. Powers said.

The Conservative source, meanwhile, said that “people are down, but they won’t be indefinitely,” and that a “bifurcation between the elected members and the unelected Senators” is expected.

The source said that some Conservative MPs will introduce a motion to have split caucus meetings, allowing for the elected House to have their own meetings and the appointed Senators their own with neither side welcome to either meeting. There would then only be one national caucus meting per year if the motion passes, the source said.

When asked what that would do to the party and caucus, the source said, “Who cares? Who cares what Senators think anymore? Canadians are saying, ‘We don’t care about the Senate anymore.’ One side is elected, and the others are employees of the party appointed by the Prime Minister. If you hooked up a monitor to the Red Chamber, the line would be flat. It’s dead.”

Conservative MPs were not as dire when speaking about the party’s future last week.
Conservative MP David Tilson (Dufferin-Caledon, Ontario) told The Hill Times that while “people are disappointed with Mr. Duffy,” Conservatives will get past this.
 
“They’re disappointed that this has gone on. I think it’s going to get resolved in time, but it’s going to take some time,” he said. “The opposition is having great fun and delight, which is their job, and their right to do that, but on the whole, I think we’re down a bit, but we’ll rise up again.”

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Mr. Tilson said as bad as this scandal is, it’s nowhere near the Liberal sponsorship scandal and it will not paint all Conservatives with a bad brush. He said constituents have been calling and emailing him about the Senate expense issue, but others have also noted that there are other important issues that need to be addressed, such as unemployment, Syria, and the Canada-EU trade agreement.

“Surely to goodness all of those issues have priority over this,” Mr. Tilson said. “We have to look at it [the Senate expense scandal]. I think the Senate’s going to have to clean up their act. They’re going to have to become more accountable. And when I say that, the honour system has to go. It’s going to have to go. They’re going to have to start doing what MPs do.

“We have to have receipts for everything we do. If we don’t have receipts, we don’t get paid and then sometimes it’s challenged. Members of Parliament couldn’t possibly get away with what some of the Senators have gotten away with in the past. That has to stop and I think it’s going to stop,” said Mr. Tilson.

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski (Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, Saskatchewan) said that “morale is excellent” in the caucus and that the government is working to reform the Senate which will help Canadians see the government is working on fixing the problem.

“We’re all very, very, very disappointed—some would use stronger language than disappointed—with the actions of some of our Senatorial colleagues but in terms of our House caucus, it’s very good morale. We understand, look there are some problems that need to be addressed without question. No one’s down in the dumps,” he said. “We’re all very unified, we’re very upbeat, and I think that’s an excellent sign. It shows the maturity I think of our caucus.”

While a Forum Research poll last week showed the Liberal Party with 44 per cent support which would give them a majority government if an election were held now, the Conservative source said there is plenty of “time to recover” for the 2015 election.


“There’s always time for the prodigal son to repent but they have to show that they’ve learned a lesson. It’s why any solution to the problem won’t include saving the Senate,” the source said. “They gave Duffy the benefit of the doubt, but it’s clear now he didn’t deserve it. He abused it, so the government stopped defending him. Mike Duffy has been revealed to be a morally weak, indiscreet individual not deserving of the office he held. It’s why he will be hounded out of the Senate.”

Mr. Powers agreed. “The past two-week period has been the worst two-week period for the government but the writing’s not on the wall yet, and may never be in terms of defeat, though the opponents of the Conservatives are seizing it as the Conservatives themselves would seize it,” he said. “I think it’s in how you react, how you respond, and reality check, we’re two years out from an election but it’s judgment time for a lot of people. I think it’s important to remember as well, that the B.C. Liberals who just won re-election in British Columbia were subject to a number of difficult moments not unlike these and they rebounded too, so I wouldn’t write any obituaries yet.”

Mr. Lukiwski said it’s too early to tell what the long-term impacts for the Conservative Party will be, but acknowledged the Conservative brand is taking a hit because of the Senate expense scandal.


“That doesn’t help our brand, but I think most reasonable Canadians, most objective thinking Canadians will understand, look, this is not a systemic problem of the Conservative Party but it’s a few individuals in the Senate have brought upon themselves,” he said. “If we continue to focus on the economy, continue to improve the economy, continue to prove to Canadians that we are providing them with good government and that includes both the House and the Senate, I think things will be fine by the time the next election rolls around.”

bvongdou@hilltimes.com

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