There might now be something worse in the Senate mess than that $90,000 cheque Mike Duffy got to cover his expenses or the $100,600 Pamela Wallin has had to pay back for travel that wasn’t Senate business.
It’s the $300,000 a year taxpayers are still forking over for a Senate government leader’s office.
With the demise of former Senator Marjorie LeBreton as government Senate leader and her exclusion from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet in the July shuffle, Quebec Conservative Senator Claude Carignan has become the new government leader in the Senate. However, even though the Quebec Conservative Senator is not in cabinet, he will still receive the same $300,000 office budget that LeBreton received.
The question to be asked is really the same one that surrounds the Senate these days: Why is it necessary?
Now, one could legitimately ask why a Senator would ever be appointed to cabinet in the first place. Senators are supposedly there to oversee cabinet and government decisions on behalf of the provinces they represent. From that perspective, it would seem a blatant conflict of interest to all have that person serve in the cabinet. Certainly, they should not be beholding or be taking direction from the Prime Minister’s Office that they are appointed to oversee.
And by logical extension, does it even make sense for Senators to serve in the role of government or Opposition leaders of parties?
As it stands right now, the six Senators representing Saskatchewan is slightly proportionally higher than the 14 elected MPs in the House of Commons. But is it of any real benefit to rural Saskatchewan voters if our Senators simply follow their designated party line without any consideration of the area they supposedly represent?
It is more than a little ironic that Mike Duffy would be appointed to represent Prince Edward Island — a province that hasn’t been his residence for decades and where he didn’t even have a health care or driver’s license before taking his Senate seat.
But the sorry affair in which Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright bailed him out with a $90,000 cheque to cover his improper expense claims said all too much about where Duffy’s loyalties were.
By the same token, the huffing and puffing we are now hearing from Saskatchewan Senator Pamela Wallin about the “lynch-mob mentality” that is forcing her to repay $100,600 in improperly claimed expenses rings pretty hollow when many of those improper expenses were to attend Conservative fund-raising events.
But hardest to digest is that Harper has had abandoned any interest in supporting provincial Senate elections as proposed by Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government. Instead, Harper has now appointed more Senators than any other prime minister in history. And, as is now obvious by Wallin and Duffy, all have been appointed because of their contributions to his political party.
Now, add insult to injury with Harper’s appointment of Carignan — a defeated Conservative candidate in the 2008 federal election — as Senate Government House leader.
The same Stephen Harper who once described the Liberal government’s appointment of former Alberta Liberal leader Nick Taylor in the most vile political terms imaginable is now doing the same thing the Liberals did.
Some might argue that he’s acted even worse than those Liberal prime ministers, given the volume of Senators he’s appointed and given that their appointments were strictly in the present interests of the Conservative party.
And now Harper is affording his one-time failed candidate the luxury of a cabinet minister’s $300,000 a year office — even though the Senator is not in cabinet and has no need for such an office?
It again begs the question: Why do we need the Senate?
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.