Reasons Duffy shouldn’t be convicted

June 10, 2015   ·   0 Comments

ONE THING THAT’S UNLIKELY to come out during the marathon trial of suspended senator Mike Duffy is just why he and fellow senator Pamela Wallin were appointed to represent provinces they hadn’t lived in for decades.

The two were among 27 men and women appointed to the upper chamber in 2009. Of the 27, at least 22 had solid Conservative credentials, either as candidates for the Conservative, Reform, Canadian Alliance or Progressive Conservative parties or as fundraisers or campaign workers.

Three clearly had no such credentials. Jacques Demers had had no known involvement in politics, his main claim to fame being as coach of the Stanley Cup-winning Montreal Canadiens in 1993.

Similarly, Sen. Kelvin Ogilvie was an award-winning scientist and Sen. Richard Neufeld had been a Liberal member of the British Columbia legislature, albeit a former Social Crediter.

Twenty of the 27 new senators had permanent homes in Ontario, but only 18 of them were appointed to represent the province.

The other two were Mr. Duffy and Ms. Wallin, who for reasons never explained publicly, were appointed to represent Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan, respectively, where they had been born but hadn’t lived in for many years. Both lived in Ontario while they worked for the CTV television network.

The main allegation against Senator Duffy is that he collected a large housing allowance on grounds his permanent residence was a cottage in P.E.I. when everyone knew it had long been a house in Ottawa.

However, the fact is that one of the few clear Senate rules is that senators must not only have permanent residences in the province they represent but also be a landowner in that province.

One thing we expect to see come out in the Duffy trial is the fact that at first blush the senator was, unlike most of his colleagues, facing a huge pay cut.

While other senators have retired or can continue with careers as lawyers or farmers, Mr. Duffy clearly could not continue to be CTV’s senior Ottawa correspondent or to have a similar job elsewhere once he was known to be a politician.

In the circumstances, we strongly suspect that Senators Duffy and Wallin were told by someone in the Prime Minister’s Office that they not only could claim their Ottawa homes as secondary residences but would be able to supplement their relatively paltry salary (currently $142,500) through high-profile appearances across the country, particularly during election campaigns, and to claim most of their travel expenses as senate-related.

What we don’t know yet is just who provided such advice or on what it was based, beyond the fact that the rules on spending were foggy and invoices would need to be approved (as they apparently were).

Last week’s disclosure of the fact that spending by nine other senators has become the subject of a police investigation seems to be powerful evidence that the problem went well beyond the spending of Senator Duffy and that his differed only in terms of size and frequency, due mainly to his high profile and value to the governing party.

So what should the government do now?

One thing, clearly, is to establish new, crystal-clear rules on senators’ expense filings, one rule being the annual disclosure of each senator’s approved spending.

The other is a pre-election announcement by the government that all future senate appointments will be made by the provincial governments (albeit notionally by Ottawa), which could opt to have them elected.

We doubt such a change would require any federal legislation, let alone a constitutional amendment requiring approval by most or all of the provinces. However, even if that were needed, it’s hard to imagine any provincial government not jumping at the opportunity.

If nothing else, such a reform measure would give the upper chamber at least the appearance of offering what it ought always to have had – an ability to give legislation passed by the House of Commons some “sober second thought.”

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