Why the Senate must be scrapped, part II - Macleans.ca

Why the Senate must be scrapped, part II

Maclean’s editorial: ‘These are grim times for our political leaders’


Protocol dictates that Canadian senators are referred to as “honourable members.” Etiquette similarly holds that mayors of Canadian cities are to be called his or her “worship.”

Despite all the formal respect accorded our political leaders, however, honour is clearly in short supply on Parliament Hill these days, given the Senate’s expense-account scandal and the weekend resignation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff. And recent allegations of illegal drug use dogging Rob Ford, mayor of Canada’s largest city, plus his recent record of stumbling from mistake to misadventure, make his actions seem entirely unworthy of worship. These are grim times for our political leaders.

Fortunately Canada is not entirely bereft of heroes. In addition to our current surfeit of political scandals, last week this country welcomed home a Canadian genuinely deserving of respect and amply supplied with honour. Commander Chris Hadfield’s time in charge of the International Space Station has been justly marked by an outpouring of national pride. His professional accomplishments, personal connection with school children across the country and obvious lack of pretense all serve as dramatic counterpoint to our current spate of depressing terrestrial news.

Earlier this year we argued for an end to the Canadian Senate for practical and political reasons (“Why the Senate should be abolished,” From the Editors). Established to bring regional balance and financial oversight to Canada’s federal system, the Senate no longer performs either of its intended duties. The living-allowances scandal simply adds to the embarrassment of the red chamber.

Conservative senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau plus Liberal Mac Harb have all been investigated for misusing housing allowances. After a detailed investigation by auditors Deloitte, Brazeau was found to have spent a mere 10 per cent of his time at his alleged primary residence in Maniwaki, Que., between April 2011 and September 2012. The unavoidable conclusion is that he lives full-time in the Ottawa area and thus should be ineligible for a housing allowance. The same situation applies to Harb. Both have been ordered to repay their living-expense claims.

Brazeau suffers the further ignominy of having been recently charged with sexual assault. And Conservative Sen. Pamela Wallin is undergoing a separate audit for her massive travel expenses. All four senators have left their respective caucuses, making Independent the fastest growing political party in the Senate.

It is the case of Duffy, however, that requires the most scrutiny. He alone among the senators in question chose not to co-operate with the auditors. Instead he tried to make the whole thing go away by shelling out the entire amount of his disputed housing claim: $90,172.24. Later we learned, however, that Duffy did not pay this out of his own pocket. Rather he accepted a cheque from the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright. Once this became public knowledge last week, Wright had no option but to resign; it is clearly improper for politicians to retire their debts in such a manner and Wright should have known better.

Now it has subsequently come to light that Duffy may have claimed per diem living allowances for Senate business when he was actually campaigning on behalf of the federal Conservatives during the 2011 election. A second audit could be forthcoming.

The ethical and legal issues surrounding Duffy’s situation are immense, complicated and devoid of personal honour. His actions reveal a man more interested in maximizing his take from the treasury than serving the public. And when confronted with evidence of his own misdeeds, he appears to lack even a basic sense of responsibility. He’d just as soon have someone else pay off his markers than solve the problem himself.

In fact the overwhelming sense that arises from the entire expense scandal, of which Duffy is merely the prime example, is that the Senate has become an institution more concerned with maintaining the gilded lifestyle of its members than improving Canadian democracy. Beyond the $135,200 standard Senate salary for what amounts to part-time work and all the expense claims one can get away with, according to Canadian Taxpayer Federation calculations Duffy will be eligible for a $58,000-per-year pension if he serves his entire term. Brazeau and Harb will earn annual pensions of $200,000 and $136,000 respectively if they serve until retirement.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper this week read the riot act to Conservative MPs and senators in a rare open caucus meeting, declaring himself “very upset” at the ethical breaches, keep in mind this is a party that rode to power in 2006 largely on the promise of greater political accountability in the wake of the sponsorship scandal. More than just contrived public displays of anger will be required to fix problems that are largely of the Conservatives’ own making.

And whereas Wright had the decency to resign, it is not even clear Canadians have the ability to rid themselves of senators for ethical breaches (although senators can be stripped of salary and benefits for unacceptable behaviour). The closest the Senate came to firing one of its own members was the case of Liberal Sen. Raymond Lavigne, who was convicted of breach of trust and resigned in 2011 before the Senate could hold a debate on removing him. So Canadians may be stuck with these self-serving entitlement seekers until each reaches age 75.

As if to underline the totality of its ethical collapse, last week the Senate announced a series of changes to its administrative rules. The first proposal is to delete the so-called “honour principle” regarding senatorial behaviour. The clause to be removed currently reads: “Senators act on their personal honour and senators are presumed to have acted honourably in carrying out their administrative functions.” Eliminating any presumption of honour from the actions of its members may be the most commonsensical thing the Senate has done in a long time.

And with the pretence of honour properly dispensed with, the next logical step should be to get rid of the Senate altogether.


Why the Senate must be scrapped, part II

  1. In times where the government is trying to save money theses mooches in the senate are not serving any purpose for the Canadian Public at large. Duffy, Wallin and co should resign. If I got caught fudging travel and expense claims to my employer I surely would face criminal charges and certain dismissal. Why should these be any different. I am their employer and they should go. The senate should be abolished…gone bye bye. Honourable member….what a joke. And I am sure the surface has been scratched

    • Yes, the senate has been corrupted with partisan appointments since Confederation. This has made it either a hallowed hindrance to democratic government, or an ornamental rubber stamp. The real work of reviewing legislation (“sober second thought”) is done in legislative committees made up of elected representatives. That’s why the provinces ditched their senates long ago.

      The senate is nothing more than a fifth wheel and cash-for-life lottery for cronies and failed politicians. It’s time to derail this pompous gravy train. It is an affront to Canadians and our system of democracy.

      List of Canadian Senate appointments by prime minister

        • I think Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star sums it up best:

          “As it operates now, the Senate is a costly, useless and undemocratic joke, with little real power. … But to retain the Senate – elected or unelected – as a high-paid debating society or research institution is ridiculous.”

          Toronto Star: Bob Hepburn: Abolish the Senate instead of trying to reform it

        • Yes and did you know organized crime makes regular donations to the VATICAN?! Yes, even EVIL people have a little good in their hearts! However, sometime you have to amputate an arm to save the patient. The SENATE is a USELESS appendage that does more harm than good. How many Canadians have TENURED jobs and earn 6-figure salaries as politicians who KNOW they can NEVER be fired!

          • The senate is as corrupt as the vatican. That’s anew twist on crazy.

          • No one said anything of the sort.

          • I was just kidding. But i think you will find he did make a comparison of sorts.

        • The Ottawa Citizen article provides very few examples of worthwhile deeds accomplished by the senate and just as many reasons for it’s abolition. There is very little honour shown by the honourable members.

  2. Does anyone think that the Parliament + the required provincial consent (which I believe needs to be unanimous) is going to happen, even after all of this?


    • Actually, the Senate abolition or reform requires the support of the House of Commons and Senate OR the House of Commons 2x AND support from 7/10 provinces representing a majority of the Canadian population.

      • Well.. I stand corrected. Anyhow.. I prefer reforming the Senate to make it elected… not abolition (still daunting however).

        • Isn’t the unanimous or 7/50 question one of the ones before the SCC as we speak?

          also recall there is federal legislation making it MORE than 7/50 for any constitutional amendment.

      • If we arrest all the senators, maybe we can bypass needing the senate.

        • Banana republic!

          • Do you mean arresting crooks would make us a banana republic?

            I’d think letting corrupt politicians get away with stealing from us, would make us a banana republic.

          • You suggested we should arrest all senators (presumably without due process) so they could not vote against senate reform or abolition. That’s something you would expect in a banana republic, not in a country that respects the rule of law.

          • If it stops the crooks from stealing, I’m willing to consider it, within reason.

            So you like the idea of crooks voting on something to prevent them from stealing anymore? Maybe we should just let criminals police themselves, too?

            You talk about respecting the rules of law, but who at the top is actually doing that?

          • I reject your premise that our choices are to not prosecute Senators if they have committed a crime or to summarily jail all Senators regardless of their guilt or innocence. You’re just trolling.

          • I was referring to the guilty ones. But I also consider those covering for duffy guilty. Which is a good portion of them.

            Reject all you want. The fact of the matter is that too many of the senators are corrupt and will never allow the senate to be abolished. Given they aren’t elected and we can’t fire them, the only course of action is to file criminal charges against them. Get rid of the corrupt senators and the needed change can begin.

          • Wouldn’t the Senate deciding their own fate represent a conflict of interest?

          • Now that’s just stating the obvious. But still a good reason to leave the senate out of talks to abolish them.

          • Tar sands heaven more like it. Anything for big oil.

      • NOW would be a good time to try to reform it or abolish it. With the scandals, I could see the public jumping on the bus to do so.

        • There’s an interesting interview up on CBC.ca, Rosie Barton talking to Gordon Barnhart, who was brought in as Clerk of the Senate by Brian Mulroney to try to clean things up. He held the position from 1989 – 94, so a little into Chretien’s government too — and he has some eye opening and surprising things to say about how he tried but the Senate proved stronger than his efforts.

      • Which rule applies (the one you tout or the one Scott said) is not clear. It is one of the questions the government has asked in its SCC reference.

  3. I do think that the Senate can be abolished and its regional functions transferred to the House of Commons. For example, all bills on third reading could require the support of a majority of voting MPs representing either a majority of provinces/territories over those opposed (7/13) OR a majority of “national communities” (English Canada/Quebec 2/2). Note: ties within a province/territory/”national community” would count neither in the affirmative nor negative. This formula would require that all bills receive the support of about 52 to 55% of voting MPs. It’s a flexible and do-able option.

    • This IDIOTIC formula is based on monarchical rule, the Queen, the Governor General, etc. Why are we still addicted to the UK Royals. The French do have their problems but they sure got it right when it came to dealing with THEIR royals!
      Are Canadians ever going to grow up or will they always be Royal Subjects!

  4. Weren’t the Conservatives (Reform) going to get rid of the Senate? Or at least a triple-E senate?

    • Reformers have always supported a Triple-E senate. Of course, they were most vocal about it back when the Liberals were winning perpetual fake majorities due to right-wing vote-splitting.

      Harper is trying to get around the Constitution with a hillbilly senate reform package: appointed senators voluntarily elected by the provinces.

      The NDP has supported abolishing the senate since the party formed.

  5. Because they’re a bunch of thieving crooks. Why else whitewash duffy’s report?

    • Yes, it’s disgusting for senators to investigate themselves behind closed doors. This investigation must be handed over to the RCMP. They need to follow the $90,000 money trail. It almost certainly originated from the Conservative Party war chest.

  6. Limit their time in the Senate to an eight year term. Then they can go out and look for a job in the labour market like the rest of us. It’s rather doubtful that too many of them will be lined up to get into the Upper Chamber without a guarantee of a nice fat pension, unlimited perks, and immunity from prosecution.

    One eight year term should be all the time allotted to them.

    • Not even, same as the parliament at the most. We don’t need politicians becoming dependent on public funds. It’s part of the current problem.

      • Yes. Of course. So how long has the current government been in power and billing Canadian taxpayers for their services? A lot longer than the eight year term that Senators would be allotted. Enough time to really make a mess of things. Enough time to get mired in a constant stream of scandals, misappropriation of public finances, and government cover-ups. .
        One eight year term for Senators. Enough time to serve their country effectively. To do their public service. Then it’s out the door and down the road.

    • Congratulations on eliminating any *chance* of senators becoming non-partisan.

      Their length of service is a feature, not a bug. It puts a senator well past any sort of obligation he or she has to the person who appointed them. It gives the senator a reason to take a longer term view of the legislation that comes before them. It allows the senator to serve as what he or she should serve at.. a living brake on the fads that might afflict a democracy.

      Reduce their term to a simple eight years and you’ve eliminated the primary advantage that allows them to apply sober second thought. We’ve *already* got a level of government for which the short-term view trumps the long term, and you want to make a *second* level?

      Our house of commons gives us a level government that’s reflective of the current feelings of the population. Our senate gives us a government that’s reflective of Canada as we’ve been. One’s the short-term slice, the other’s the longer term stretch. Both have their use.

      The fact that we have the senators that we currently have is reflective of *us* in who we elect to do the job of appointing. The senators are both our punishment and our penance for what we do at the ballot box.

      Which is really why so many people want it abolished.. they don’t want to be reminded of the character of the people they put into power.

      • LOL. Yes. One eight year term. Enough time to get the work done that they’d be assigned to do. A relatively simple concept that ‘most’ people can understand.

        • And right there you demonstrate you have no idea what the purpose of the senate is. Hint: We already hire lawyers. They’re not that.

      • Sober second thought—-baloney.

        You appear to have no concept of any reason about why clear-thinking Canadians see no useful purpose in the Senate.

        The few Senators with sober second thoughts could be replaced by a half dozen retired judges, civil servants, plumbers, etc.

        Any rational person should know that the Senate has always been a dumping ground for old hacks. Since it appears there is no appetite or possibility for reform—then get rid of it—it`s 2013—not 1886.

        If Liberals and the media really want some good to come out of this Duffy $hitstorm, then ask Harper if he intends to lead the way in some substantial reform or elimination of the Senate. He may have wanted it in 1993 and 2006—-ask him if he still wants it in 2013. If nobody asks him, thin I will assume it`s the same old story —-media and opposition just using a story to slam Harper, waiting for their chance at the trough.

          • I am sure that a late stage syphilitic donkey does some “good work” once in a while too.

            Big deal.

            Get rid of the fat arrogant bastards.

          • Charming image. Don’t bottle it up. Best to get the hate out there eh.

          • What’s your point? Do you like getting ripped off by useless, lying scum? Apparently. Hate is good. Sometimes.

          • My point is you’re smearing everyone with the same brush. Get some perspective. Not everyone in the senate is lying scum or even useless.

          • Oh I am sure that the odd puppy is saved and that some old lady somewhere gets something.

            Who cares, the money would be better spent elsewhere.

            Have you ever been to the Senate or know any Senators? I do.

            Get rid of the lot of them, even the 2 or 3 who help puppies.

          • I suspect you’re the kind of guy that stands on street corners calling all teachers out for being scum who only want to line their own pockets at your expense…it turns out your aunt twice removed might have once known a teacher.

          • How you got from what I said to your conclusion I have no idea. FWIW I value teachers and their contributions. When you find some teachers cheating on the housing allowance let me know.

          • Just a wild guess. Always nice to be proved wrong when a person assumes too much. The point was i doubt very much you have an intimate aquaintance with the financial records of more than 200 individuals. IOWs you are asking me to condemn the whole place on an anecdotal reference or two.

        • Ye$, $obering $econd thought$ are ab$olutely nece$$ary and unelected $enators who earn $ix-digit $alarie$ FOR LIFE and know they can never be fired are be$t placed to provide it.

      • Well said. I like the idea of the senate being the repository of our electoral choices we’d rather have back[ at least in some cases]Expiation for our national sins; a lifelong mocking of our electoral mistakes so to speak. Don’t think that opinion is going to make you too popular though. People will forgive you for being wrong, rarely for being right.
        Who was it who said the senate was a good place to safely pile all our political deadwood, so it couldn’t do any more harm? Was it Pierre? He’d have known a thing or two about that.

    • 8 years? Are you kidding? What makes them deserve an 8-year term. Let them be voted in every 4 years. Get rid of the Gov General. Get rid of our infantile thumb-sucking attachment to the UK Royalty and let’s FINALLY HAVE OUR VERY OWN COUNTRY!

  7. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/real+problem+with+Senate/8407150/story.html

    Take that Mac editors, from the one you let get away.

    Beef up the ethics rules for sure, and find a way to turf bone heads like theses 4 senators; there must be consequences for such contemptible behaviours. But don’t shoot all the dogs cuz some of them got fleas. And as Potter points out, try some logical reform of the appointment process first; if that fails burn the place. Abolishing the senate will also require a constitutional amendment, so there!

    • I would also like to see payment tied to performance. Show up and serve on committees and you get full salary, be absent and your pay becomes nominal.

      • maybe? Shouldn’t that come with the job though? Certainly they should dock for absence without a note from teacher.

  8. Red Herring. This is not about the Senate. It’s about the PMO.

  9. Politicians aren’t capable of reforming or abolishing the Senate, but I know who can,.

    The voters.

    PS. Canadian journalist, pundits, politician and lapdog citizen, Canada is supposedly a democracy so demand a vote. If Canada turns out not to be a democracy, we can fix them too!

    • First you have to do is convince the 40% who did not vote last time to vote next election.

  10. Boy, they sure have a Don Quixote like fascination with abolition don’t they?

    It’s like they’ve ignored every last constitutional expert in country on the matter.

    We cannot abolish the senate without nearly unanimous agreement from the provinces, something Harper hasn’t even made the motions of attempting and something which Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes will NEVER agree to.

    Honestly, can we move on to reasonable action now?

    Make appointments independent and meritorious in some fashion and be done with it already. The only reason the senate doesn’t work is because its full of bagmen.

    And if you think electing them is so great, then congrats for stripping the West of even more power due to their lack of representation, which again, can’t be changed.

    • Make appointments independent and meritorious in some fashion and be done with it already.


      this also can’t be done without a constitutional amendment. Otherwise, it’s as useful as a fixed election law.

      • Actually, the appointment of the senate by the Prime Minister is a precedent not enshrined in the constitution.

        The Prime Minister could easily set a new precedent and establish a meritorious appointment system of his choosing. Once established it would be difficult for a new Prime Minister to change without political backlash and a majority vote in the commons.

        It is in fact the only thing he can do to change things.

        It’s not perfect, but it sure beats doing nothing.

  11. An opinion based on incomplete analysis. Maclean’s paints all Senators and the entire institution with the same paintbrush. Not at all fair. In no way balanced. Besides focusing on the 4 Senators who did wrong, why not look at the other 100 Senators who have given great service to their country through their work on committees, reviewing legislation and represenating the rights of minorities? They do in-depth work into policy areas that Canadians can be proud of. The only shortcoming is that it does not bring enough of its work to the attention of Canadians. No doubt that the selection of Senators must definitely be reformed, preferably by having an independent panel appoint them, not the PMO, to defined term limits.
    By arguing for its abolition, Macleans does a disservice to democratic representation in this country. A more reasoned argument for reform would be in order.

  12. Steve is “very upset” is he? Upset that his arrogant minions were so stupid and so greedy. I can believe that.

  13. Anyone who thinks that Wright wasn’t going to get paid back, big time, with tax money, or some other massive perk, needs to come to Ottawa to see how these bastards actually work.

  14. Yes. let’s pay UNELECTED, TENURED senators-for-LIFE 6-figure annual salaries and then expect them to think soberly about ANYTHING! Face it, Senators are simply living HIGH OFF THE HOG, and in the case of Duffy and Wallin it’s showing NOT ONLY ETHICALLY, but PHYSICALLY! It’s time to COMPLETELY change the way the Canadian Government works: (1) cut of ALL ties to the USELESS and CRETIN-FILLED UK Royalty (2) get rid of the USELESS APPENDAGE–the Governor General– who’s also making a 6-figure annual salary for doing and representing ABSOLUTELY NOTING! (3) Senators MUST BE ELECTED and NOT APPOINTED FOR LIFE! (4) If Harper and his cronies can pull off this kind of CRAP during an elected term, just imagine what Senators are up to KNOWING THEY CAN NEVER BE FIRED!

  15. You have got to hand it to Harper. He will have his senate abolished…it is a three act play and he is a very patient and conniving person.

  16. PLEASE ABOLISH THE SENATE. We simply can’t afford to support these extravagant people who offer little value. Stop their pensions and use the money to help the regular hardworking, honest Canadians. The senate is a disgrace.

  17. the senate is garbage, they do not do any think, out the door see you in hell.

  18. Couldn’t agree more, the sooner they’re scrapped the better. I served in our military for 27 yrs. I’ll be 65 next year and I’m really looking forward to getting my OAS, oh wait a minute, I forgot, as soon as I get my OAS, my military pension is clawed back, I’ll no doubt lose money on the deal and have to look for another job! Maybe if they get rid of the senate they can do right by our veterans and leave our pensions alone (politician pensions are not touched and they get full pensions after 6 yrs.) RCMP, local police and firefighter pensions are also clawed back, seems like if you are willing to but your life on the line for your country, you get penalized for it! Every politician who ever served should have been in jail for at the very least “MISS-USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS”

  19. What a load of crap!

    Conservative nonsense. Canada NEEDS the senate, just not the one Harper has personally engineered as a failure to promote his original assertion that the senate needs to go.

    He’s backward planned the crisis to get what he wanted all along.

  20. Only in Canada would a ‘national scandal’ worthy enough to abolish the Senate be….expense related. Wow, some politicians may have cheated on their expenses…hold the presses! And whatshername thinks the Rob Ford scandal is over the top? Only at Rogers would we read that two Senators cheating on their expenses (and then paying them back) is enough to abolish the senate, yet doing investigative reporting on drug allegations of a mayor is ‘over the top’.
    If thats the case, we’d better get looking at all the expenses of all the MP’s. And then what, if two of them have cheated on their expenses we better get rid of the House of Commons! I’m no fan of the government, but it seems that Rogers wants to get rid of practically EVERY government institution. We don’t like CBC…get rid of it. We don’t like the Senate…get rid of it. How about some ACTUAL reporting on what the senate does, and does not do. At least make your pitch based on something USEFUL. Since when is the conduct of two or three people indicative of an organization? I’m sure I could find one or two Rogers employees who have fudged expense documents, does that give grounds to bankrupt Rogers?