OTTAWA – Some Conservative senators are fighting back, defending themselves and the reputation of their maligned institution after taking a year-long drubbing over the Senate expenses scandal.
Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais on Friday became the second senator this week to join the fray, directly challenging a New Democrat MP for advocating abolition of the upper house in a flyer sent to her constituents.
In a letter sent to all parliamentarians, Dagenais referred to Charmaine Borg’s flyer as “a rag” and suggested she’s a whiny, ignorant, powerless Quebec MP who was elected by fluke and stands little chance of being re-elected.
NDP House leader Nathan Cullen said sending such a “offensive” missive to a 23-year-old female rookie MP is “paternalistic, childish, condescending and frankly misogynistic.” He served notice that he will ask the Speaker of the House of Commons next week to condemn Dagenais.
“The letter in question attacks the very legitimacy of a sitting member of Parliament,” Cullen told the Commons.
But Dagenais was unapologetic and warned New Democrats to expect more of the same if they continue attacking the Senate.
He said he’s following the lead of Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella, who issued an unprecedented statement earlier this week blasting NDP Leader Tom Mulcair for accusing him of making fraudulent housing expense claims.
Kinsella also held an extraordinary news conference Monday in the Senate chamber, which he used in part to offer a history lesson on the merits of having a second parliamentary chamber.
“When they will attack the Senate, from now on they will have to expect a reaction from senators,” Dagenais said in an interview.
“And I will be one of those … If they want a war of chambers, we’ll give them one.”
Earlier in the week, Dagenais said he spoke to Kinsella and the Conservative Speaker told him: “‘You know, Mr. Dagenais, we will have to take our destiny in our own hands, to defend the Senate.’ And I said, ‘Mr. Speaker, if you need me, let me know, I will do what I have to do.’”
Cullen scoffed at the threat and said the NDP has no intention of backing off its criticism of the Senate.
“If they want to have a fight about legitimacy between us and the unelected and under investigation Senate, we welcome it,” he said in an interview.
Dagenais, who lives in Borg’s suburban Montreal riding, was infuriated by her flyer, which calls for abolition of the “costly and anti-democratic” Senate, where friends of the government get a “salary for life.”
“What a rag!” he wrote in his letter to Borg, copied to all MPs and senators.
Dagenais goes on to say Borg “would likely never have been elected” but for Quebecers’ “spontaneous sympathy” for late NDP Leader Jack Layton. He refers to her as one of “a bunch of puppets” designated to “fill the holes” in the NDP’s slate of Quebec candidates in the 2011 election.
He accuses her of “blindly parroting” Mulcair to denigrate the Senate and suggests she should use the parliamentary library to inform herself about the institution before criticizing it.
Dagenais, who was appointed to the Senate after failing to win election in another Quebec riding in 2011, writes that citizens and organizations in Borg’s riding frequently come to him for help with federal government matters. When he’s suggested they should talk to their MP first, he says, “they all responded that you were useless and powerless to do anything.”
“Parliamentary life, Ms. Borg, is not just about whining, although you’ve become very good at it and the media certainly takes delight in it,” he concludes.
Earlier this week, Kinsella shed his usual role of neutral referee in the Senate to accuse Mulcair of making an “unfounded personal attack” against him and Liberal Sen. Pierrette Ringuette.
Mulcair had accused the duo of pulling “the exact same trick as Mike Duffy” — one of four disgraced senators under RCMP investigation for allegedly defrauding the Senate.
Kinsella scolded the NDP leader, who “lives for free in a lovely (official residence) house in upscale Rockcliffe Park,” for criticizing parliamentarians who claim reimbursement for keeping a secondary residence in the national capital.