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Parliament Hill in Ottawa is viewed from the shores of Gatineau, Que. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Parliament Hill in Ottawa is viewed from the shores of Gatineau, Que. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Rod Love

The Senate’s real problem: 146 years of ‘wink, nudge’ and shut up Add to ...

Pardon my boredom, but as the CBC leads the Ottawa wolf pack in declaring that the “Senate Scandal” shakes the country to its very foundations, I offer the following News Bulletin: Some members of the Senate of Canada have been padding their expenses since Confederation.

I don’t know about you, but a practice of various Senators playing fast and loose with their expense accounts for 146 years could be described as a pattern.

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The pattern is: wink, nudge, the rules are kinda loose, don’t be stupid, just order one extra bottle of wine, not two, make sure there is at least some, however questionable, rationale for it being connected to obscure Senate business when you submit the expense account, and then shut up.

And thus it has ever been.

The problem this time is that the pattern of cronyism on both sides of the aisle has been exposed.

Here is the real issue: Since Sir John A. Macdonald himself, Prime Ministers appoint fundraisers, luminaries and celebrities to the Senate who’s real job is to use their star power to go out into the boonies and raise money for the governing party, and charge the expenses to the Senate.

As in….

Senator: “Yes, I did go to Nowhereville, Manitoba to chair a Senate sub-committee on the Manitoba Duck Eggs Regulations.”

Journalist: “Did you also speak at a fundraiser for the governing party on the same visit?”

Senator: “Yes, but that was not the main reason for the trip.”

Journalist: “Oh, OK”.

And the Senate gives Canadians the bill for the airfare, hotel, meals and ground transportation of the Senator and his/her staffer, safe in the knowledge that the Senate sub-committee on Manitoba Duck Egg Regulations have done their indispensable work, (and that the governing party pulled in 35K at the fundraiser down the road on the same night).

Do you think Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin were appointed to the Senate for their vast grasp of the complex issues facing the country?

The Prime Minister’s challenge at his speech to the Conservative Convention on Friday night is to address head-on this built-in culture of soft look-the-other-way corruption that has Senators of all parties doing the party’s business on the public’s tab.

This isn’t about the future of the Senate, abolition or otherwise.

This isn’t about Duffy, or Wallin, or Brazeau, or Harb, or any others who will eventually be exposed for their questionable expenses.

This isn’t even about about the mysterious $90,000 payment of Mr. Duffy’s expenses and further payment of legal fees. The cops will get to the bottom of all that.

This is all about a Canadian Senate that has been used since Confederation as a de facto arm of the governing party’s political fundraising machine, with a weary Canadian taxpayer footing the bill.

Listen, former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin’s government eventually collapsed because he looked backwards.

By appointing the Gomery Commission to look at what happened in the past, Mr. Martin unwittingly exposed a nasty tradition of this backslapping institutionalized crony corruption.

Of course, he should have taken the advice of the wily old Jean Chrétien to let the fuzz figure out who broke the law, and throw them in jail, and then move ahead with reforms.

Same for Stephen Harper if he recognizes the risk here.

There is an RCMP investigation of all the financial improprieties underway – let it happen.

In the meantime, address the larger issue of Senators being semi-official political bagmen with little or no oversight, guidelines, or rules.

Mr. Harper could be the Prime Minister that solves the real problem and changes 146 years of soft Senate corruption.

Call in the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada and direct them to bring in the most stringent and transparent expense accounting rules in the solar system.

And bring in a vetting process for Senate appointees that weeds out the celebrity fundraisers and leans towards people who actually know something about sound public policy development.

Personally, I don’t care if Mike Duffy “resides” in PEI.

I do care that a star fundraiser was appointed to the Senate, goes to Yellowknife or wherever on phony Senate business, raises money for the Conservative Party (of which I am a member) and then sends the bill to the Senate who then sends it to me.

And please, for God’s sake, please don’t televise the Senate proceedings.

If they are on TV, they won’t be able to take their naps. And Lord knows if they aren’t napping, they’ll probably be billing – Us.

Rod Love is a consultant who was chief of staff to former Alberta premier Ralph Klein.

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