In the midst of a raging scandal over the abuse of taxpayers’ money by senators, the Senate has hired two speakers to help denizens of the maligned upper chamber feel better about themselves.
All senators, their staff and Senate employees have been invited to attend talks by communications consultant Barry McLoughlin and motivational speaker Marc-Andre Morel.
According to an email sent out Tuesday morning by the Senate clerk’s office, the pair will talk about “the enduring value of the Senate and help bring a little perspective to the current situation.”
The subject line of the email invitation tells recipients that “the Senate values you and the work you do — come find out why.”
The talks are scheduled for Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. (ET) — when the Senate is supposed to be sitting.
It was not immediately clear how much the Senate is paying for the speakers but it appears the decision was made by Senate clerk Gary O’Brien.
Marjory LeBreton, government leader in the Senate, said the idea was discussed in principle at a meeting of the internal economy committee’s steering committee. But it was never approved by members of the committee.
“I was shocked when I saw that (email invitation),” LeBreton said outside the Senate chamber.
“I would strongly suggest that the administration cancel any plans they have for motivational speakers.”
Asked if she thinks hiring speakers is a waste of money, LeBreton responded: “At this point in time, I certainly do.”
The Senate has been rocked for the past six months by a scandal involving four senators and their alleged abuse of living and travel expenses.
In the case of Senator Mike Duffy, the scandal is now under investigation by the RCMP. Duffy accepted a $90,000 “gift” from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, which he used to reimburse his improper expense claims.
McLoughlin’s biography bills him as “one of North America’s leading communications consultants;” his company specializes in training politicians, governments and corporations in how to deal with the media.
Morel is touted as an internationally-renowned expert on “the themes of personal and professional success.”
Both Liberal and Conservative senators seemed dumbfounded that the pair had been hired to give discouraged Senate denizens a pep talk.
“It’s an outrageous approach to a very serious issue which has taken place in the Senate of Canada,” said Liberal Senator Jim Munson.
As a member of the internal economy committee, Munson was particularly furious that the committee had not been consulted on the matter.
“It’s a comedy of errors what’s going on here in the lack of consultation. We’re talking taxpayers’ money and this wouldn’t come cheap.”
During the expenses scandal, it emerged that the Senate administration had rejected numerous expense claims from Duffy but had not alerted the internal economy committee to his noticeable pattern of invalid claims.
Conservative Senator Gerald Comeau, who became chair of the internal economy committee last week, said he knew nothing about the hiring of speakers.
“I don’t need a motivational speaker to tell me what I have to do here,” said Conservative Senator Jacques Demers. “I just come here and try to do the best I can every day.”
James Cowan, the Liberals’ Senate leader, confessed to being surprised — and not interested in attending the talks.
“I intend to be in there (the Senate chamber) tomorrow afternoon, not at some session for motivation.”
Still, Cowan acknowledged that the scandal has discouraged everyone who works in or for the Senate.
“When these kinds of controversies arise, then inevitably it tarnishes everybody’s reputation, the good and the bad. So, it’s not good but we’ll get over it.”