Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed his caucus today in an effort to control the ever-deepening Senate controversy. He used the opportunity to score some political points, but he needed to say more.
What Canadians wanted to hear from the Prime Minister was a confirmation that senators who file invalid expense claims should repay the money themselves and not be bailed out by high-ranking members of the Prime Minister’s Office. Mr. Harper said he was “not happy” about the secret arrangement involving Senator Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright, his former chief of staff, but he did not address the many unanswered questions surrounding it. Why was Senator Duffy bailed out? Who else was involved? Did it violate rules governing parliamentarians’ conduct?
Instead of addressing these critical questions, Mr. Harper praised his government’s efforts to increase accountability and invited any person who would use public office for personal gain to “leave this room.” He also attempted to refocus his caucus on Senate reform. Senate reform is a legitimate issue – Canada needs a strong upper house with unimpeachable legitimacy that can perform its critical role of representing regional interests – but not really the one at hand.
The public is less interested at this moment in setting Senate term limits than it is in hearing a prime minister whose mantra is accountability explain why his chief of staff repaid Senator Duffy’s invalidated expenses. For Mr. Harper to ignore the public’s outrage over the $90,000 payment is regrettable.