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Let’s make rules and enforce them

August 13, 2014   ·   0 Comments

SENATORS MIKE DUFFY and Patrick Brazeau and former senator Mac Harb already face charges; a criminal investigation is ongoing concerning expense claims by Pamela Wallin and other senators, and calls are being made for police probes into spending by former Alberta premier Alison Redford and current Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell.

Without a doubt, some of the politicians’ personal use of taxpayers’ money is scandalous. But is it really criminal?

Writing in Monday’s Globe and Mail, Preston Manning put a positive spin on the question. Without addressing it per se, the former Reform Party leader and son of Alberta’s longest-serving premier suggests that what Alberta, and by inference all political jurisdictions, must have is more attention being paid to aspiring politicians’ character and less on their ideological and policy positions.

He cited as examples the personal integrity and ethics displayed in the Great Depression by Hubert Somerville, an Alberta civil servant earning $700 a year, and in 1947 after the Leduc oil discovery by Orvis Kennedy, president and chief fundraiser of the governing Social Credit party, in both rejecting bribes for drilling rights from powerful U.S. oil interests.

He ended the column by quoting his late father, Ernest Manning: “Those of us who make the rules, and those of us who administer the rules, had better keep the rules, or we lose our moral authority to govern.”

With that we could not more heartily agree. And we think the time has come for  someone to start reconsidering use of the  Criminal Code as a substitute for the ballot box and effective rule-making.

Let’s look first at what led to the criminal investigation of expense claims by senators, and particularly at the cases of senators Duffy and Wallin.

Without a doubt, the two were far from the first senators appointed to represent provinces in which they didn’t live at the time of their appointment. But those before them lacked the national profile they had attained as journalists employed by the CTV television network.

Just why Mr. Duffy was appointed to represent Prince Edward Island and Ms. Wallin to represent Saskatchewan in the Upper House has never been explained by Prime Minister Stephen Harper or anyone in his office who may have come up with the idea. All we know is that the two were among 18 appointees, some of whom occupy some of the 24 Senate seats allotted to Ontario. Could it possibly be that the PMO couldn’t find a loyal Tory in P.E.I. or Saskatchewan?

As we see it, it’s far more likely that both new senators were told they would have no problem claiming their Ottawa homes as “secondary” residences or in filing expense claims when they were engaging in partisan political activity.

And as for the bribery charge Senator Duffy faces for accepting a $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright (then Mr. Harper’s chief of staff), we see the allegation as totally inconsistent with Mr. Duffy’s consistent assertion of innocence. Why would he have pressured anyone for the money when his position throughout has been that his expense claims were legitimate, based on what he’d been told by the PMO?

In our view, the real problem with senators’ expense claims as well as those of Premier Redford and Mayor Fennell lay in the lack of hard-and-fast rules and an independent arbiter to enforce them against office-holders lacking the personal integrity and ethics required to exercise self-discipline.

And surely those tools are far preferable to the enormous wastage of time, effort and tax dollars involved in invoking the Criminal Code.

         

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