Monday, June 10, 2013

Canadian Senate meet 'Fergie' ..... 'Fergie' meet the Senate ..... go get the little weaselies!

A G's audit will be ugly for Conservatives and Liberals, no end in sight

The only caucus that must be salivating over the prospect of the AG's review is the NDP. The NDP stands to be the direct beneficiary of an ugly Senate audit. And ugly it will be.

By Sheila Copps
Monday, June 10, 2013
It's not going to be pretty: Members of the Senate Internal Economy pictured recently on the Hill. This Senate spending scandal will open a Pandors's box that could make Gomery seem like child's play, says Sheila Copps. (Photograph by Jake Wright, The Hill Times)

Calling in the auditor general is a great political move for the Prime Minister—in the short term. Instead of focusing attention on Nigel Wright’s payment to Mike Duffy, the move drills down to specific Senate spenders. 
The report should provide a welcome diversion from ongoing expense and attendance leaks. 
Almost daily we are treated to another tidbit expounding on the corporate excesses of Pamela Wallin and the dubitable, double expense habits of Mike Duffy.
The leaks are designed to do damage to Duffy and Wallin. And they are having the desired effect.
 The Prime Minister’s Office has successfully mounted a full court press, including the conscription of former press secretary Dimitri Soudas, in the service of the Harper communications machine. Soudas temporarily set aside his responsibilities at the Canadian Olympic Association to phone key journalists in defence of  Nigel Wright.
Wallin and Duffy were invaluable allies in the last election but that was then and this is now. The two former Tories have become personas non grata.
The proposed involvement of the auditor general will ensure that this is the gift that keeps on giving. But it may not help the governing party. Nor will it put all opposition Senators in a positive light.  
The only caucus that must be salivating over the prospect of the auditor general’s review is the New Democratic Party.  With no members in the Senate, and with a stated policy of Senate abolition, the NDP stands to be the direct beneficiary of an ugly Senate audit. And ugly it will be.
The House of Commons will also be unable to escape the reach of the auditor general.
How can the government rationalize an in-depth investigation of all expenses in the Senate without shining a light into the dark corners of the House of Commons? 
The whole notion of per diem payments and expense claims without receipts is the byproduct of another era.
It is inexplicable in modern parlance, and hence, indefensible. It doesn’t matter that non-expensed per diems may have actually resulted in smaller payouts in some instances.  
For example, the housing per diems do not cover the additional expenses that one must have in running two households.  When my daughter was born, I had to purchase two of everything, cribs, strollers, etc.  None of those normal, double living expenses were covered in any government manual.
In a private company, you would be required to produce legitimate receipts resulting from two residences, and they would be recompensed.  But private-sector reimbursement is transparent and clear.
The same cannot be said of the current expense system in the Senate or the House of Commons.
Take the Senate residency requirement.  To represent a particular province in the Senate, you simply have to own a piece of land, a throwback form earlier times. That property could just as easily be a cottage. Harper knew both Duffy and Wallin lived outside their home provinces when he named them to the Senate. 
In Canada, property ownership should no longer a legitimate prerequisite for Parliamentary admittance. Whatever happened to the lowly tenant?  
When half of Toronto is renting, why should they be disqualified from nomination to the Senate? Senate nomination should depend on pre-established place of residence before the appointment is approved. 
Current expense and membership rules in this exclusive club are confused, contradictory, and anachronistic. 
No government has bothered to tackle them, as they are not top-of-mind issues to the voters.
But placing the auditor general smack in the middle of this mess will guarantee one thing.  This Senate spending scandal will be top of mind for months, and even years to come.
It will open up a Pandora’s box that could make Gomery seem like child’s play.
The mixing of Senate business with party business, the confusion surrounding Senators’ public activities and their efforts on behalf of private corporations, will be juicy political fodder.
Former prime minister Paul Martin launched the Gomery Commission in an effort to distance himself from the previous Liberal government. Harper is following the same path, hoping to distance himself from the profligacy of former allies. An auditor general’s report will certainly flesh out the spending habits of Duffy, Wallin, and others.  
In the end, the Gomery Commission damaged the Liberal brand and cost Martin the government. 
Harper’s Senate expense call to arms may end up causing history to repeat itself.
Sheila Copps is a former deputy prime minister and a former Cabinet minister in Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien’s Cabinet. 
news@hilltimes.com

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