Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pamela Wallin Stephen Harper's "oink, oink" Diva Senator who drank his (Purple?) Kool-Aid!

Fall From Grace
Inside the high flying life of Senator Pamela Wallin - and how it all came crashing down in a frenzy of backstabbing and bitterness. In MacLean's second major profile of a senator caught in scandal. Anne Kingston reports.
IN OCTOBER 200, mere weeks after undergoing surgery for colorectal cancer, Pamela Wallin had returned to her busy-bee self - out on a national book tour promoting Speaking of Success: Collected Wisdom, Insights and Reflections, culled from interviews she'd conducted with everyone from Margaret Atwood to Henry Kissinger, Success had few better ambassadors at that time than the self-styled small-town gal made good from Wadena, Saskatchewan. Wallin had worked her way up from CBC Radio in Regina to the Toronto Star to co-host CTV's Canada AM, then ran its Ottawa political bureau.In the 1990, she headed to CBC TV, where she was the first woman to co-anchor the nightly national news. In a country that confers more celebrity on people who read the news than those who make it, Wallin was a superstar, unable to walk down the street without being stopped and fawned over. She also didn't shy away from being the news herself, most famously in 1988 when she asked then Liberal leader John Turner if eh had a drinking problem. Her public image dove-tailed with perceived Canuck values: hard-working, decent, down-to-earth, middlebrow, popular, nice, In 1994, her proud hometown renamed its main drag in her honour.

The nation rooted for her when Wallin was unceremoniously dumped by theCBC in 1995, and again when she confronted the Big C in 2001. By the time she was shilling her book about success - a bestseller - she'd
reinvented herself yet again as Pamela Wallin, Inc., an entrepreneur selling Pamela Wallin the brand. Her production company produced her popular interview show Pamela Wallin Live along with more commercial fare, including the pilot for a Canadian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire that never took off. Wallin also was an in-demand headliner, hosting "cultural weekends" in Ontario cottage country with her old friend Garth Drabinsky and appearing as an emcee and speaker. "Canada' Oprah," the Ottawa Citizen gushed.

She loved being her own boss, Wallin told January magazine: "Getting fired, for me, was absolutely the best thing that ever happened." She vowed her days working in big organizations were over: "I didn't like working in bureaucracies and in structures that were filled with committees and where old boy's gangs made the decisions."

Twelve years later those words take on ironic resonance. For Wallin's attempt to run her own show in the country's biggest old boys' gang of all, the Senate, has plunged her into a scandal that threatens both her reputation and the red-chamber.

Expenses: Wallin has paid back more than $38,000 and must pay $100,600 by September 16.

An external audit combed over in Canada the way the Starr Report was in the U S found $138,978 of $532,508 in expenses Wallin billed to the Senate for travel were improper: it was deemed personal or related to Conservative party business. Expenses were filed for a speech she didn't give; her appointment calendar had been altered. (Wallin said Senator David Tkachuk, who chaired the audit committee, told her to remove "irrelevant, private and personal" information); Tkachuk denied that, and said he told her "keep her calendar clean." Of 94 flights Wallin took, only 11 of them were direct between Ottawa and Saskatchewan, the province she represents; often she spent multiple nights in Toronto between flights. The revelation that Wallin spends most of her time in Toronto, though she owns a house in Wadena, has given rise to unresolved questions about her residency.

A glimpse into Wallin's "networking events" billed to the Senate revealed a peripatetic life rich in activities designed to burnish the Pamela Wallin brand. There were award lunches, a meeting to discuss her buying a business "promoting women of influence," dinners and prominent business players, soirees where some rich guy was given a philanthropy award, interviews with a journalist. Wallin also billed travel to the University of Guelph when she was chancellor. Between air travel and Town cars, Wallin's feet rarely touched pavement.
Wallin apologized publicly, saying there was no attempt to mislead. But she showed a decided lack of contrition: she called Deloitte's audit process "fundamentally flawed and unfair" and defined herself as "an activist senator - one who saw it as her job to advance causes that are important to Canadians." She noted expenses previously approved were disallowed and she blasted "some arbitrary and undefined sense of what constitutes 'Senate business' or 'common Senate practice.' " Wallin, who is divorced and has no children, has promised to repay the amount with interest. She has repaid more than $38,000; last week she was told to deliver another $100,600 by September 16 or see her wages garnisheed.

For a woman whose work is her life, the total tally has been far higher. In May she was turfed from the Conservative caucus and now sits as an Independent alongside the disgraced Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau. The travel she can claim has been restricted and her file has been transferred to the RCMP for investigation. Wallin has stepped down from lucrative position on corporate boards. (In 2012, she pulled in $68,202 in director fees from Gluskin Sheff alone.) She has put her New York co-op on the market for $349,000, for less than she paid in 2005. Many who bought into Pamela Wallin, the lucrative brand, have turned. People make oinking noises at her in airports, reports Alison Squires, publisher of the Wadena News. Wallin's are seen differently than those of Mike Duffy, who abused the Senate housing allowance, then was handed a $90,000 cheque from Stephen Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright. "What Duffy did seems deliberate," says a man who knows her. "I'm angry with Duffy; I'm disappointed in Pam.

Friend of Wallin counter that she was doing her job as she understood it (Wallin did not respond to Maclean's requests for an interview.) "She was appointed because she was Pam Wallin. And you're Pam Wallin 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Shelley Ambrose, co-publisher of the Walrus magazine and Wallin's right hand in New York. "Senate business to Pamela is everything she's doing because she's 24-7.She's a total workaholic. She will go anywhere she's invited - five things a night; she thinks it's her duty. She doesn't have the luxury of saying, "Oh, I'm at this dinner party and I'm not a senator right now."

Even Wallin's most vocal critics, both Liberals and Conservatives, don't believe she set out to abuse the system. "She was just carrying on being Pamela," says a Conservative senator. But her diva ways alienated many - senators and, more lethally, her own staff. "The knives were out," says one. Ambrose blames Stephen Harper, who appointed Wallin and Duffy for their marquee values: "He knew who she was. He knew she had a big apartment in Toronto. He wanted her to lobby for him. And she did. She defended the PM and his policies wherever she went - a dinner party in Toronto or a barbecue in Saskatoon."

Now, ironically, the public profile that made Wallin useful to the Harper government renders her beneficial in another way: as a bigger symbol of Senate malfeasance than the rogue's gallery of senators - Michael Cogger, Andrew Thompson, Eric Berntson, et al. - all guilty of greater offences. She has become target practice for calls for Senate reform or elimination. Wallin is being singled out, says Ambrose: "What they're having to do is attack Pam's character - Pamela is bad, Pamela screwed the system. They're distancing her from the Prime Minister and Conservatives and from the Senate."

Senator Anne Cools, who sits as an Independent. has respect for Wallin: "She has worked hard as a senator," she says. But she, like others in the Senate, was surprised by Wallin's rabid support of the Harper government: She embraced partisanship pretty quickly and pretty comprehensively," she says. "But she set out to serve." On that latter point, there is little dispute. Just whom Pamela Wallin was serving is the question.

To be continued .....

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