Let them eat cold Camembert. Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth certainly won't, as she explained to reporters yesterday.
The auditor-general's team of bean-counters has been picking through senators' expenses and, as the good senator noted, finding fault with those who expensed a separate breakfast when they could have eaten on that morning's flight.
"Well, those breakfasts are pretty awful," she told reporters. "If you want ice cold Camembert with broken crackers, have it."
Broken crackers! Imagine! At a time when Stephen Harper's government is hunkering down for a potential drip-drip-drip of revelations from Mike Duffy's trial, this comment, be assured, was not among the PMO-approved talking points for Conservative senators.
Somehow, Senator Nancy Ruth accidentally summed up the Senate expenses scandal quite neatly: the problem, she seemed to be suggesting, is that the rigid rules don't allow for senators to live in the style to which they've become entitled.
If that's a little unfair to the senator (more on that later), her comments are undeniably off-message. It's another drip from the leaky spigot of embarrassments that is the Senate, and it is Mr. Harper who will probably pay for the damage.
The cold Camembert has been served just before the trial of Mr. Duffy, the former Conservative who faces 31 charges and has been accused not only of claiming a second-house allowance for the Ottawa home where he'd live before his appointment, but also meal reimbursements for food he whipped up in the kitchen.
There's Patrick Brazeau, the suspended senator on trial right now for sexual assault, who was suspended for alleged expense abuses. And Pamela Wallin, who is alleged in new court filings to have filed more than $25,000 in fraudulent expense claims. (Ms. Wallin has not yet been charged and the allegations haven't been tested in court.)
Of course, there are many other senators now under the auditor-general's scrutiny, many of them Liberals. One of those facing charges, former senator Mac Harb, is a Liberal, too. The Tories can hope to spread around the embarrassment.
But then, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has never appointed any senators – he can claim he kicked them all out of his caucus. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is not burdened with any. Mr. Harper has appointed more than half the senate, including senators Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin.
And then there's Senator Nancy Ruth, who managed to say the very words the Prime Minister's Office least wanted to hear.
It's almost ironic that Mr. Harper will be embarrassed by her comment – she's not Mr. Harper's shade of blue. She was appointed by former Liberal PM Paul Martin (as cover for the appointment of Liberal partisans) and she's a Red Tory who even endorsed Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne.
She is also, by the way, an iconoclast, an advocate for gender equity and gay rights, who dropped the Jackman name and now asserts she has no last name – Nancy Ruth, not Ms. Ruth. And, it's fair to wager, the PMO wouldn't find it easy to get her to take an order if they tried.
But it's easy to cast her as a figure of entitlement. She's the daughter of Harry Jackman, who built up the Empire Life insurance business, and sister of former Ontario lieutenant-governor Hal Jackman. And part of her complaint yesterday was that the auditors don't understand "what it's like to fly around the world to get here to Ottawa."
Most Canadians probably don't understand it, either. A fair number won't easily understand why she'd reject the free Camembert because it's not runny, and insist on a taxpayer-funded brioche, or whatever.
But Senator Nancy Ruth was actually (mostly) making a different kind of complaint: that the auditors don't really understand Senate business. She, for example, is a feminist activist, and when she gives a speech about that, the auditors might not think it is parliamentary business that justifies her travel and meal expenses.
But truth be told, a lot Canadians don't think that there's any Senate business, no matter how worthy the intent, that justifies any expenses.
Oddly, many senators were once people who doubted the value of the institution, but once sworn in, came to believe in the value of their work.
A few, it appears, come to believe that anything they do is public business, and pretty much any of their expenses are public expenses.
Now most senators are Conservatives, and in the next few weeks, Mr. Harper will answer for them. Repeatedly. And for the Conservatives, the worst possible message is that they feel entitled – and just don't know why people don't understand it.