Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Death ..... let the heads roll!

Canada's Senate
Reform or death?
A scandal touches the government
Friday, November 2, 2013

HAD Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, last year acknowledged that at least three Conservative senators he named to the unelected 105-seat upper house claimed allowances to which they were not entitled, the matter would doubtlessly have ended there. Instead, he defended two of the three, only to cut them adrift when the media exposed the involvement of his own office in a cover-up. His Chief of Staff left after writing a personal cheque to pay the disputed expenses of one senator. But neither his departure nor an attempt in October by the Conservative leadership in the Senate to suspend the three offenders without pay has quelled the uproar.

The cornered senators have fought back, one with claims of bribery, extortion and threats from prime ministerial staff. Although police are investigating, none of the three has been charged with fraud. The opposition New Democrats and Liberals have continued to press the government over the affair, and seen their support rise in opinion polls.

Absent any evidence that he was directly involved in the cover-up, the scandal is unlikely to topple Mr Harper’s government. His party has a majority in both houses. Canadians are not due to go to the polls until 2015. But the prime minister has been bruised by the scandal, which has raised questions about his integrity and exposed fissures in his hitherto monolithic party.

Although the sums at stake—about C$200,000 ($192,000) in total—have been repaid, the Senate has also been harmed. The Conservatives came to power in 2006 vowing to turn it into an elected body, but they failed to gain the necessary support of the provinces for this change. In an address on October 16th setting out its legislative programme the government noted that the Senate “must be reformed or, as with its provincial counterparts, vanish.” It has asked the Supreme Court for an opinion on its options. Jim Flaherty, the finance minister, later called for the Senate’s abolition.

Polls show Canadians are almost evenly split between reforming the upper house and doing away with it. Either requires provincial approval. Abolition seems a disproportionate reaction. In a Westminster-style parliament, it would leave power dangerously concentrated in the prime minister.


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