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Politics As Senate expense scandal grows, why hasn’t Ottawa cut off the money?

This is the scandal that everyone saw coming in slow motion, but no one did much about.

For well over a year, long after the blow-up of the shocking expense claims of Senator Mike Duffy et al, an audit has been coming. And all of Ottawa has been expecting ugly revelations.

Yet no one, not Prime Minister Stephen Harper, not the leaders of opposition parties, came forward with a proposal for the practical reform Canadians want: choking off senators' money.

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Instead, for the most part, Conservatives and Liberals waited like an audience to a low-budget horror movie, waiting to see which characters would be mauled.

Now, the names are leaking out. Nine senators were referred to the RCMP for a review to see if a crime was committed.

They include two sitting senators. There's one Conservative, Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, the tough-on-crime Harper appointee previously rapped by the Senate ethics officer for dating his staffer, and one Liberal, Colin Kenny, the national security hawk appointed by Pierre Trudeau 31 years ago, cleared in 2013 in an internal Senate review of a sexual harassment complaint.

The seven others referred to the RCMP are retired senators including Gerry St. Germain, a Mulroney-era MP who played a part in the Reform-PC unite-the-right movements, Rod Zimmer, a colourful former Liberal bagman from Manitoba, and, according to CTV reports, former Liberal Senate Leader Sharon Carstairs.

Even the way the auditor's report was handled in the Upper Chamber illustrated the unaware attitude of an institution that was outdated in 1867.

The Senate's top officers – Speaker Leo Housakos, Conservative Leader Claude Carignan, and Liberal Senate Caucus Leader James Cowan – had taken over the committee responsible for liaison with the Auditor-General. All three are on the list of 21 senators asked by Mr. Ferguson to repay sums.

The Senate leadership's communications plan involved receiving the long-awaited report Thursday, but keeping it secret until next Tuesday. What could go wrong?

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The upshot is that even the Senate leadership can't speak for the chamber with untainted credibility – even though they dispute any suggestion of impropriety in their cases, and Mr. Carignan and Mr. Cowan are viewed as two of the Senate's straightest arrows.

But the really inexplicable bumbling has come from the political leaders in the Commons who have an election coming, and somehow, as they scurried to do damage control, failed to get ahead of a scandal they saw coming. In fact, it's just one ripple in a scandal that's still unfolding, with the Mike Duffy trial, for example.

Mr. Duffy's trial has revealed that there are two problems with the Senate, beyond its basic illegitimacy: They are money and partisanship, and they go together.

Then Senator Duffy, for example, was asked by his party to travel the country for political events, and if some were of marginal importance, it was no biggie because it was the public tab. Because of the free-flowing money, Prime Ministers can't resist using the Senate as a reward for past political allies and a payroll for current ones, like campaign managers and fundraisers.

The Conservatives shrugged off the coming audit, saying they acted against Mr. Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, and Pamela Wallin, and that the courts – actually the Constitution – blocked them from real reform. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau used a pre-emptive strike, cutting Liberal senators loose from his caucus and promising less partisan appointments.

But surprisingly, Mr. Harper has done nothing to address one thing Canadians want: cutting the flow of money to Senators. There's been no big move to tightly restrict their expenses – travel, hospitality, contracts, everything.

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And that's the nub of the problem. It's not just about broken rules, but the basic incentives – the fact that 105 appointed senators have discretion over large sums clangs with Canadians who don't think their work warrants any expense claims.

Mr. Harper hasn't proposed an austerity plan. Neither has Mr. Trudeau.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is rubbing his hands because the splatter from this horror movie hits his opponents, not him – there are no NDP senators. He proposes abolishing the chamber. A simple message, but not one that's quickly doable.

And if the NDP leader doesn't have to do damage control, that should only make it easier to answer the question that Canadians want their leaders to answer: What about cutting off the money?

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