Thursday, January 30, 2014

When Taking the Measure of Trudeau, Think Nigel Wright, Think Mike Duffy and All the Rest

Severing the bond between Canadian senators and their party apparatus and leadership is a long overdue reform and all the proof you'll ever need is to be found in the Wright-Duffy-Harper affair.

Our ethically vacuous prime minister, Stephen Harper, has perverted the Senate of Canada in endless ways.  He has stacked it with Conservatives, never once reaching across party lines in his appointments, an anti-democratic first for Canada.  Far from selecting senators based on their record of achievement and service, he picked really mediocre types obviously chosen for obedience.  As Harper's handmaidens achieved a majority in the Senate, their Master succeeded in transforming the institution into yet another of his personal partisan agencies.  Any doubt was erased from what we learned of the Wright-Duffy affair.

Harper's Trained Seals
Duffy was not appointed to serve the Senate.  He was given the seat, the salary, the pension and other benefits to serve as a fundraiser and campaigner for the party in the Commons.   Duffy is said to have had a photograph in his Senate office of himself and the prime minister, autographed by Harper "to my most valuable senator."    Three words that speak volumes.

RCMP investigators determined that Duffy was not in Prince Edward Island enough days to be deemed resident in that province.  Close but no cigar.  Duffy's camp contend he was unable to meet the residency test for PEI because the Conservative PMO had him on the road from coast to coast, constantly fundraising and campaigning.  Not fundraising for the Senate.  Not campaigning for the Senate.  No, he was fundraising and campaigning for his prime minister and his caucus in the Commons.

Duffy felt entitled to his housing allowance given the number of days he spent annually resident in Prince Edward Island plus the days he spent "on the road" for Harper's Conservative caucus.  That's why he dug in his heels when Harper ordered him to repay the housing stipend.  That's why Nigel Wright decided to give Duffy $90-thousand under the table. 

It was in both Harper's interests and Duffy's that the PMO interceded with the Conservative Senate leadership to get the audit report into Duffy laundered.  Orders went out from the PMO to the hopelessly compromised senior Conservative senators - LeBreton, Stewart-Olsen, Tkachuk and others.   The corruption was complete.

Recall how this all fell apart.  Harper was onside with it.  Duffy was onside with it.  Nigel Wright, Benjamin Perrin and other PMO functionaries were onside with it.  The Conservative Senate leadership were onside with it.  They were all onside with it - until an e-mail Duffy foolishly distributed to his friends detailing the arrangement fell into the wrong hands and was then leaked to CTV News.   Only then did it all fall apart.  Only then did Harper, Harper's PMO and the exposed Conservative Senate leadership turn on Mike Duffy and, when they did, they did it with a vengeance.

That demonstrates why young Trudeau is right.   Senators must not owe their duty to their party's leadership in the Commons.  They must serve the country and the Canadian people.   They can't do that and serve a master in the Commons.  One has to go.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to go even further. No party affiliation at all, besides ons's personal voting preference. A random selection from the voters list with whatever security screening goes with a senior civil servant position would be a great leap forward. Imagine, the possibility of getting some minimum-wage people, single parents, someone who isn't a priveleged white (most likely) male person.

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't buy that. Senators should be people who have a record of service and accomplishment. We need people who have demonstrated they can contribute. Picking up folks waiting at the bus stop wouldn't work. Lots of the people I describe have been through a fair share of adversity.

Bill said...

Based on recent past Senate performance - Trudeau's thinking outside the box on all this seems brilliant.

Maybe Mr Harper should just resign (in disgrace) and open up a laundry. Still would have to avoid his business fearing it would all come back dirty.

I guess I have now been added to his "Enemies List" like so many others that pay his wages.

The Mound of Sound said...

It certainly took me by surprise when I stumbled across it on the CBC web site yesterday morning, Bill.

I have noticed that people closely vested in their political parties are aghast at this. They think senators should remain bound to their parties. The public, however, sees this as a good step. The Senate is, after all, supposed to serve us, the Canadian people.

Anonymous said...

The right-wing ideologues waiting at the Conservative bus-stop must be wondering "will the bus stop to pick me up, or will it run over me"?

Only former Imperial Oil mail boy Harper knows the answer to that, and he's not talking.

Purple library guy said...

No doubt Senators should be people who have a record of service and accomplishment . . . but we don't have that now, and Trudeau declaring that but of course, his committee will only appoint that kind of people from now on has no more credibility than a claim that he'll reform the Senate by the simple expedient of personally appointing only Really Good Senators.

If anything, this manages to be worse than the present situation. Where before, we had the prime minister appointing corrupt party hacks to the Senate, now we will have the prime minister appointing corrupt party hacks to a committee, which will then appoint further corrupt party hacks of his choosing to the actual Senate. The two differences:
1. Gravy train is slightly longer, as the committee posting itself is a brand new patronage plum.
2. If anyone gets upset, he'll be able to blame it on the committee and avoid responsibility for his actions. Trudeau is proposing to create himself a group of Nigel Wrights to take the fall for bad Senate appointments for him.

The Mound of Sound said...

You could be right, PLG, but we won't know until it comes into being. Until then we're all left to speculate. We don't have to speculate, however, on the current corruption of the Senate by our reprobate prime minister.

Ryan Spinney said...

Arrrggg, this isn't a brillant idea from Trudeau, its an idea from the NDP, from a motion to focus senators to stop partisan activities, a motion Justin not only voted against, but called unconstitutional. This is just another flip flop the boot lickers in the media call brillant.

The real truth is the sh#t is about to hit the fan when the AG reports on the senate are released and Justin is trying to avoid being buried.

It changes nothing, except stopping Senators from fundraising on the tax payer dollar (which was the NDP's goal) its still an undemocractic institution, with the same corrupt hacks it had before, it needs to be abolished.

Ryan Spinney said...

The corruption in the Senate preceeded Harper, he just joined in on the "fun".

The Mound of Sound said...

Well, Ryan, spoken like a devout Dipper. I know the polls have been pretty discouraging lately but that's what you get for abandoning the Left and taking up with a Quebec Liberal as your leader.

Purple library guy said...

Mound: It's true, we won't know until (unless) it comes into being. We can't really analyze the presumable effect. That's because it's fundamentally not a structural reform.
An elected senate would be a structural reform--not one I'm sure I like, but it would be. Abolishing the senate would be a structural reform. Choosing senators by lot would be a structural reform, and while it has the disadvantage, as you say, of not favouring "people who have a record of service and accomplishment", it would have the advantage of also not favouring people who have a record of dishonesty, entitlement, and disdain for the public good, as well as the advantage of on average including some who are closer to a normal person's experience than most current politicians whether in the senate or otherwise. But in all these cases, it is worth debating what the characteristics of the new setup would be like because there would be a new setup with new characteristics. We don't have to just go on the question of whether some particular politician would feel like being abusive because all these reforms irrevocably change something significant about the nature of the system, no matter what any given sitting prime minister might wish to do.

But Trudeau's idea is not a structural reform. It's just doing the same old thing: Appointing senators, with the source of the appointments ultimately having the same motivations as currently. If there are strong reasons for politicians to game the appointment of senators now, neither the reasons nor the ability would be different under Trudeau's proposed plan. So we can only speculate whether Trudeau happens to be trustworthy enough to indirectly appoint real nonpartisan, non-corrupt senators or not, just as previously we could only speculate whether he happens to be trustworthy enough to directly appoint such senators. All we can do is speculate about personality because it's not a structural change; nothing about the system is different. Except, as I mentioned, that it now gives the PM a way to duck responsibility.

And all this is just the proposed reform. The actual removal of the existing senators from the formal Liberal caucus is just window dressing. They didn't suddenly stop being Liberals, they won't suddenly stop promoting Liberal causes or desist from taking Liberal pork. This, again, is basically a way to let the party leader duck responsibility.

CuJoYYC said...

"Our ethically vacuous prime minister …”

Love the description and it reminded me of this little gem I stumbled the other day. Hope you and your readers enjoy it.

"Our current Canadian overlord and Sears mannequin can be recognized by his dead robot eyes, his doughy skin, and real hair that looks Playmobil-fake. And those are his good qualities! The guy doesn’t even look good in cowboy hat or with a cat in his arms, feats previously believed to be impossible. In fairness, I feel like he could look good in drag, what with the heavy lidded eyes and ruby libs (kind of like Dave Foley in Kids in the Hall), but given his politics (and the fact that he was recently rolling in Israel with an anti-gay Pastor), it doesn’t seem like the type of thing he’d test out.”


Owen Gray said...

What is most striking about Harper is that, for all his talk about "reform," it's corruption that makes him tick.

The Senate is only one example of that. But Harper's record on the Senate will haunt him for the rest of his life -- as will Justin Trudeau.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ PLG - we'll see, that's about all anyone can say. I understand your point about this not being structural but the sort of change that could meet your test would involve clearing a very high wall of constitutional accord with the provinces, particularly those east of Manitoba.

I think I would be a huge mistake to create an elected Senate endowed with true, legislative legitimacy. The Senate serves better in an advisory capacity or at least it should when it's properly constituted, something that Harper has set out to wreck.

Of course Liberals in the Senate can remain Liberals. They can even form their own caucus. That's a far cry from having them effectively whipped to the Commons caucus. That, in turn, is genuine reform.

@ Cujo - I knew I shouldn't have read my e-mail before my first cup of coffee.

@ Owen - have you noticed the impulsive response this is getting from the NDP? They've reverted to the "attack the Liberals first mode" that has served Harper so well since the Martin days. I could actually see those swine jumping into a coalition with Harper in 2015 if that meant thwarting a Liberal return to power.

It seems the Canadian people have had enough time to size up Mulcair and simply don't like what they've seen. Oh well, the NDP deserves a few upside the head for abandoning the Left so shamelessly. It's just sort of creepy though when they keep churning out the self-righteous sanctimony that we used to have to tolerate when they stood for something different, important. Now they just sound like whiney bitches.

Anonymous said...

This is good advice from someone who knows. Just saying. ;-)

rumleyfips said...

Mulcair can' reall do anything.

Harper could do a lot but he has dithered and allowed a free shot to his own head.

Trudeau can't do much , but he had done something.

Harper has tried to hide his own ineffectiveness by running to the Supreme Court. He can hardly get them to agree to an unconstitutional plan but hoped to be able to blame "activist judges" for his own inaction and try to gerrymander the court. Trudeau, by doing something tangible had neutered Harpers little attack ferett.

" You had a choice sir".

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anon. I have your point. However anyone who has spent much time reading my posts will know that I don't spend much time proofreading or editing. I use two spaces and I always will. I got used to it and several other obscure techniques when I was writing my scripts in radio and television. The double space provided a clear cue that helped in delivery and pacing. Old habits, it seems, die hard. I'm too old to change now.

The Mound of Sound said...

Rumley, your assessment sounds pretty solid. I've been stunned at the outrage among Liberal hangers-on. Those who feed at the furthest ends of the trough seem to feel threatened. There's nothing to say these senators can't remain Liberal. They're not being purged from the party and they're perfectly free to form a Liberal Senate caucus. That might actually enhance their status at party conventions.

Purple library guy said...

Doing it up a bit too brown on the NDP, Mound. You feel betrayed by their shift to right, fine, I don't blame you. I never really felt close enough to feel betrayed, so to me Mulcair really feels like a relatively small, qualitative shift, not a major ideological break. To me much of what you're saying now sounds more like venting than political commentary.

But come now. You know perfectly well there's no way in Hell the NDP would enter a coalition with the Cons. And you also know perfectly well that the Liberals generally run against the NDP more than the Cons--and at that, half their pitch against the Cons tends to be less an attempt to stop people from voting Con than an appeal for everyone on the left to stop deludedly voting NDP, so the Libs can have a majority again. Even if their actual ideology has become rather vacuous, as long as they exist as a party you can hardly blame the NDP for running against the Liberals. They have both old grudges and little choice.

And it's a little too much for you to be berating the NDP for lack of principle on this particular file. Again, you know perfectly well that on the Senate if on few other issues, the NDP have a solid, consistent, and ethical stance: They don't have any senators, never have had, refuse to have them, and have advocated for abolition for lo these many years without deviating from that stance. So a politician opposed to them comes up with something clever but way watered down compared to their position, and what, you want them all to be bowing down and going "we're not worthy"? Give me a break.

The Mound of Sound said...

Berating the NDP for lack of principle? Really? I consider abolition of the Senate unprincipled, suited best not to the country but to a party that has not participated in the upper chamber.

Fact is I haven't trusted the NDP since the Lewis-Broadbent days. Layton was a hustler and the Dead-Eyed Beard is even worse.

When a party that always prided itself on a rich history of principle cuts its moorings, what's to trust?

Purple library guy said...

"Honest" Ed helped kill the Waffle. Not sure the NDP should have been trusted in his day either.

As to abolition of the senate, well, all things considered I'm an abolitionist. Call me unprincipled for it if you feel such a move can stand examination of your own principles.