Whatever happened to the Backbench Spring? - Macleans.ca

Whatever happened to the Backbench Spring?

It would be nice to think the House could help sort out the Duffy-Wright affair


The official minutes of the ethics committee’s meeting on Tuesday have now been posted. It is explained only that Liberal MP Scott Andrews proposed “hearings on the conduct of public office holders in relation to the handling of the repayment of Senate expenses by Senator Mike Duffy and the conduct of officials in the Prime Minister`s Office in this process,” that Conservative MP Chris Warkentin then moved that the meeting be conducted in camera, that Conservative MPs then voted in favour of Mr. Warkentin’s motion and… that’s it. Nothing else about Mr. Andrews’ proposal is noted. It is not on the agenda for this afternoon’s meeting of the committee.

Mr. Andrews claims that Conservative MPs voted to reject his proposal, but since the discussion did not take place in public it is basically impossible to say for sure what happened or what arguments were put forward.

Two months ago, Mark Warawa stood and began a minor rebellion. What ensued was, on a practical level, a fight for the right of individual MPs, specifically backbenchers, to stand in the House of Commons and speak at their own discretion and without having to obtain the permission of their respective party whip. On a principled level, this was arguably about something more than that basic matter of procedure or even the freedom of speech. Here was how Michael Chong explained it.

Despite Speaker Jerome’s ruling of April 14, 1975 that it is a right of members to put questions to the government during question period, today members of the House of Commons no longer have that right to ask questions of the government and to hold it to account.

That shift from the early 1980s to the present during question period from a coordinating and scheduling function on the part of the House leaders and party whips to you, Mr. Speaker, to one of command and control over who gets to ask and answer questions in this place, is instructive of the question in front of us today as to what we should do with members’ statements. That shift has eroded the basic principle on which modern Canadian political institutions are based. That is the basic concept of responsible government, the idea that the executive branch of government is accountable back to the legislature and that members in the House have to play that fundamental role, including members in the government caucus.

This shift from scheduling and coordinating to command and control has stripped members of the right to ask questions during question period and is now threatening to do the same during members’ statements. It has also eroded the power to hold the government to account, the fundamental concept of responsible government. It is something that our forebears felt important enough that a monument to Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin, figures in Canadian history in building these institutions, was erected behind Centre Block overlooking the Ottawa River, proclaiming responsible government in Canada.

It is something that the rebellions of 1837 were all about, the idea that crown prerogative was not unfettered and unchecked and that ultimately, the executive branch was accountable to the legislature.

In short, the idea that the executive is accountable to members of a legislature is a fundamental underpinning of modern political institutions in Canada, and the shift that has happened in question period and is starting to happen in members’ statements is eroding this very fundamental principle.

Two months later there is at yet no great outcry that Nigel Wright, until recently the most senior political advisor to the executive branch of this government, be brought before a parliamentary committee and asked to explain himself.

Now, it is possibly unfair to draw a line connecting these two things. The fight over the time reserved for statements by members was based on a specific complaint. It resulted in a small, but important, victory. And it was unreasonable—unfair, even—to imagine that that would result in a sudden outbreak of open dissent. The fight was worthwhile in its own right. It needed to be waged. And the Speaker’s subsequent ruling was an important milestone, regardless of what was to ensue.

The Harper government presently finds itself at a very sensitive moment. It might even seem that its future viability is in the balance. And so it would certainly be daring for any Conservative MP to join those now applying pressure to Mr. Harper’s administration. Perhaps at this point in time it is too much to ask.

But this might at least serve as a marker of how far we have to go to establish the legislature as an effective and responsible scrutinizer of the nation’s business and the affairs of the state. Six months ago, a group of Conservative MPs voted to invite Justin Trudeau, not yet the Liberal leader, to testify before the natural resources committee about comments he made two years earlier about Albertans (the motion has yet to be acted upon). This week, a different group of Conservative MPs apparently couldn’t be convinced to pursue a study of a payment made by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff to a sitting senator. It is good that the ethics commissioner is pursuing this payment. But, I would argue, it would’ve been good for the House to take up its own public consideration.

Yesterday’s Question Period was a worthwhile start to what might be a real, public, pursuit of the truth of this matter. It would be nice to think that our House of Commons could have some role in sorting out this affair.


Whatever happened to the Backbench Spring?

  1. ‘This week, a different group of Conservative MPs apparently couldn’t be convinced to pursue a study of a payment made by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff to a sitting senator.’

    Which, on a certain level, is quite strange, given that we’ve been told Conservative MPs are getting an earful from their constituents regarding this Senate affair. You’d think that by holding the executive to account (which is their job, after all), they’d be doing their concerned constituents a real service.

    • True. But then the guy they’d be investigating is the same one they have to count on to sign their nomination papers next election. So unless they are planning to retire or run under a different banner – or unless they are certain that they have enough to make Harper step down and that that is the course they want to pursue – the odds of them suddenly developing a backbone on this issue is about nil.

      • Yep. That said, if the PM can’t get a handle on this situation to the satisfaction of these Tory MPs’ constituents, they’ll be the last nomination papers he’ll have to sign.

        • Wouldn’t that be sweet?

    • You think Justin Trudeau does his constituents a service by going out across this country charging hefty fees for giving speeches, the money Justin made with those speeches to have put into his own private pockets?

      You think Justin’s constituents would be happy with that kind of a paid MP?

      • I dunno. Maybe they’ll vote him out. Not sure what that has to do with my point at all, other than another predictable deflection on your part.

        • How could it be a deflection on my part to point out that when Justin Trudeau gives speeches for a fee while being paid an MP salary already, is wrong, if such practice is deemed fraudulent when Duffy does it?

          • Because I was commenting on the power (and obligation) of MPs to hold the executive (government) to account. That has ZERO to do with Justin Trudeau (unless he’s somehow part of the executive). That’s how it’s a deflection (or at least badly, if mistakenly, off-topic).

          • And who will hold Justin Trudeau to account if the media and you won’t do it?

          • Geraldo?

          • EZRA!

          • ACTUALLY, I’m all for investigating whatever you think Trudeau is doing. Of course, if he’s doing something that’s permitted, then I’ll bet there are other MPs who are doing it too. Conservative MPs. That’s why you’re not hearing anybody from your party hooting and hollering about this. And if Trudeau or anybody else is doing something wrong, by all means, prosecute him, and them.

            BUT it STILL has NOTHING to do with MPs holding the executive to account!

          • Political scandals are all interwoven. An unethical MP such as Justin Trudeau is part of the Ottawa political make-up. All is one.

            It is impossible to separate the combinations of accountability.

            Just when Mulcair tries to keep accusing the PM of when he knew about the Duffy/Wright exchange but not wanting others to know that Mulcair himself is the dishonest one when it comes to offering up information about corruption. 17 years! un-be-lie-va-ble!

            Why should an unethical lawyer such as Miulcair feel the need to ask Harper about the minutes and hours of knowing about the Duffy/Wright cheque, when Mulcair, as interrogator at this point in time, could not muster to tell the truth about his own conduct?

            Why should we believe Mulcair over Harper if it is Mulcair who has not been forthcoming about corruption for 17 years!

            Harper has said repeatedly that he was not aware of the Wright/Duffy deal until Wright had told him on May 15.

            I believe PM Harper on that one.

          • Even though the PMO commented on it May 14? LMAO!

            Keep deflecting, F. If you actually have a comment relevant to what I initially wrote, I would love to hear it. But there’s only room for one on this tangent: you.

          • Del Asstro actually complained about it to the Ethics Commissioner and she told him to go away; JT was doing nothing wrong. It was right in a Citizen article that FV herself linked to a few days ago on another thread to supposedly “prove” wrongdoing on JT’s part. It was pretty clear from her comments though that either she did not read the article or she has a serious reading comprehension issue.
            I had a lot of fun mocking her for it :-) She, of course, ignored my pointed rebuttals then and continues to ignore reality to this minute.

          • If it were against all that is decent and holy, the Conservatives could change the law, too. Why is PMSH allowing these shananigans to continue!!!

          • How come Justin Trudeau can’t chew his own food? Are we all merely slaves and concubines in this new Trudeaustopia?

      • Private pockets … the worst kind !

        well, maybe useful if you’re hangin’ around
        a Parisien train station …

        • So you think that ALL MP’s should now be charging hefty fees for delivering speeches at schools and universities WHILE being paid an MP salary?

          I wonder if you would agree to pay an MP some cash to stuff into his private pockets for giving speeches to schools while getting an MP salary already for delivering such speeches!

          • FV tried to use that very same article the other day as proof that JT was involved in wrongdoing. It’s a shame she can’t read…

          • I can read perfectly.

            Justin comments that he does not act as an MP when he gives speeches about the environment, and about youth and about education, and can therefore charge a fee when doing his fundraising business.

            And then when Justin speaks on the environment, and speaks on youth and education issues, Justin is doing so because he is an MP.

            So he is an MP when he speaks about the environment and youth and education, but he is NOT an MP when he speaks about the environment and youth and education.

            Yup, keep covering for Justin. Read what he wants you to read into it. Most of his followers will read into it what Justin says is fair.

            When Justin says that it is better for ‘OUR interests’ when he refers to Quebec, Justin the federal leader would anyone to believe that he meant nothing by that comment. Just business as usual; you will eat it all up, for free!

          • So you’re saying our Harper-appointed Ethics Commissioner is secretly conspiring to cover up JT’s transgressions??? I demand the RCMP investigate the Ethics Commissioner!

          • And WHEN will posters give it a rest for calling PM Harper a liar about the Wright/Duffy exchange?

          • When he provides compelling evidence that he isn’t.

          • Well, I will promise you this:

            When Justin Trudeau can explain, in covering the topics of youth,, education and the environment, when he speaks as an MP and when he does not, I will finally understand what Justin’s ‘outside the House’ business is.

            Until he does, I will have good reason to say that Justin is a double dipper.

          • You can continue to perseverate obsessively all you want on the matter. I highly doubt Trudeau cares what Francien Verhoeven believes about his activities.

  2. Whatever happened to objective investigative reporting.

    Senator Duffy has been deemed offensive when he does fundraising and campaigning for the CPC while being paid a senator’s salary, (and yes, such conduct IS offensive) but it is not deemed offensive when Justin Trudeau goes out fundraising and campaigning for himself while being paid an MP salary?

    Why is it NOT offensive when Justin Trudeau did what Duffy has done?

    • It wasn’t the salary that got Duff in hot water; it was claiming per diems for doing “Senate work” while campaigning. If JT has made similar claims then he too should be in hot water.
      Got anything to show JT has made such claims? Other than pure partisan wishfulness?

      • MP’s do not claim per diems/ MP’s are on salary. The MP salary is for a full time position.

        When is Justin giving speeches as an MP and when does he give speeches as a private fundraiser?

        When does Duffy deliver a speech for CPC fundraising and when does Duffy speak in his capacity as senator?

        • How come we’re paying Justin Trudeau while he’s using the bathroom and trimming his toenails? This is an OUTRAGEOUS SCANDAL! Why, I’ve even heard that we are paying Justin Trudeau while he’s making love to his WIFE!!! Who the hell authorized that, I’d like to know! Did you know that Justin Trudeau spends one third of his time – 8 hours out of every 24 – SLEEPING!!! and still collects his full salary as if he were actually on the job? Can you IMAGINE the nerve of this spoilt-rotten, entitled, french-speaking, SON -OF – A – ROTTEN BASTARD STRAIGHT FROM THE GATES OF HELL?!?!?!?

          I am chewing off my OWN TONGUE I Am in such an ORGY OF RAGE…. and so on, and so forth.

          • So you agree then that Justin’s speech giving for an extra fee should be considered an ‘outside business’ Justin must attend to?

          • I would say that I agree with the general consensus which is that you are a stark raving bore. If Trudeau can get paid for giving a motivational speech, then I wish him well with that. If the general public thinks his moonlighting is excessive then the general public will let him know about it. But your full-time gig of squealing about it ,like a seagull with a bullhorn, seems more than a little desperate. For gawd’s sake, woman, move on… How about a couple of weeks screeching about his comments on the Senate or his too-tight jeans. Anything to break up the monotony.

          • So ALL MP’s should now be allowed to get paid privately while giving speeches!

            Yeah, that will solve your problem of covering for Justin! You guys are a hoot.

            The general consensus is that I am considered a stark raving bore, according to you, and why then do all of you feel the need to keep responding to my post.


          • All MPs are already allowed to get paid for private speeches if there is an audience that wishes to pay them. Everyone with the stubborn exception of yourself is well aware of this simple fact already. You would be aware of it as well if you were still able to learn. Perhaps you should have the following tattooed on the back of your hands so that you can see it when you sit down to type: ALL MPs ARE ALLOWED TO CHARGE MONEY FOR SPEECHES THAT DO NOT CONFLICT WITH EXISTING RESTRICTIONS. Then on the other hand you could have this tattooed: I AM NOT AN EXISTING RESTRICTION.

          • So still no name of other MP’s who are charging schools for giving speeches and calling it their ‘out of House business’.

            I thought so..

        • I think the problem we’re having here is that you don’t seem to understand how a salaried position generally works.

          You see, when someone has demonstrated a certain level of skill and responsibility, they tend to be removed from being paid piecemeal for work done. While you may not have experienced this personally, I assure you that once a certain minimum level of intelligence and diligence has been demonstrated management often finds that it is more profitable to give trust-worthy people the freedom to do generally what they want with their time, so long as the work that is required of them gets done.

          This is called salary.

          This is very different from expensing an employer for work that you were not doing, which is what Mr. Duffy did.

          • Reading comments here on these blogs is a hoot!

            You have no idea, no idea whatsoever how I have made my money!

            I understand the difference between salary and per diem and that’s why I have said in one of my earlier posts that MP’s don’t charge per diem but are in fact paid a salary.

            So you think that ALL MP’s should now start charging fees for speaking at schools as being an outside business, just like Justin has declared it to be his ‘outside the House’ business?

          • And you were wrong and I have already corrected you on this.

          • Your attempt at correction making are wrong, my dear!

          • If the school is willing to do so, I certainly don’t see why they shouldn’t.

            Uh.. you do realize that schools aren’t federally funded, right?

        • The “per diems” are their claimed expenses over and above salary. Duffy gets paid his salary whether in attendance in the Senate or not, just like the MPs in the HoC. Duffy was claiming extra expenses related to his Senate work and getting reimbursed for it when he was in fact campaigning… and vacationing.
          MPs likewise get to claim extra expenses. Show me where JT has claimed an expense for his duties as an MP while he was actually doing something else and I’ll gladly agree with you that he too should be subject to what Duffy & the other three senators are facing.
          I’m not sure if you are simply ignorant of the facts or if you are so blindly partisan (paid or otherwise) that you will try any form of misleading spin to try to take down the person who currently appears to be the biggest threat to your party.
          I’d like to think your misstatements are simply due to a lack of knowledge. But as you constantly ignore the corrections I and others make to your statements, I can only conclude that you are deliberately trying to smear CPC opponents by wilfully disregarding the truth. You may call it muddying the waters; I simply call you a bald-faced liar

          • I know about the per diem and the salary. You don’t have to explain that to me.

            We know what Duffy has been up to.

            But we don’t know what Justin has been up to. How many sittings of the House has Justin missed because he went on a private fundraising tour?

            How many other MP’s give speeches for a hefty fee while getting paid an MP salary?

            When Justin charges for his speeches, he talks about the environment, about youth and about all sorts of political issues.

            And when Justin does not charge for his speeches, he talks about the environment and about youth, and about all sorts of political issues.

            When is Justin an MP and when is he not when he is making political speeches?

            Should ALL MP’s now start charging extra fees for giving speeches????

            You don’t believe me that it is only Justin who charges for giving speeches while being an MP?

            Well, then why don’t you set the record staight, and tell me which other MP on salary charges $20,000 from schools in order to deliver a speech? Name me one other MP.

          • I don’t need to. The Ethics Commissioner looked into Del Mastro’s complaint and found it groundless. Not only are you requiring reverse onus (guilty until proven innocent), you are ignoring a past finding of innocence.

            At some point your nonsense becomes libel – and I think you long ago passed that point. Provide evidence or shut your pie hole.

        • MP’s do claim per diems. Duffy is not on the hook for giving speeches, as you very well know.

          • Tell me what you really know, JanBC.

            Name me one other MP who is charging schools up to $20,000 for delivering a speech while being on an MP salary. Name me one other MP who has done that!

          • Sorry, Francien but I am not going to play your game. If you want to play silly bugger, you can play it without me. Maybe go have some orgasmic truth under the covers, it might break the mania.

          • Then don’t respond to my posts if you don’t like what I post.

            Simple solutions for simple minds.

    • Double -dipping ?

      • Yes, double dipping! When a paid MP gives speeches he should not charge a fee to stuff into his or her own pockets besides.

        Or do you think that ALL paid MP’s should now start charging fees when delivering speeches to schools, to then recieve an MP salary AND to get a fee of up to $20,000 @ pop for delivering a speech, to put that extra cash into their own pockets?

        If you think that sort of double dipping should be done by MP’s then just say so!

    • If you want objective, you’ve come to the wrong place. This is where you come if your fond of yelling loud anti-Conservative talking points. Wherry starts the talking points, and then the “community” blindly accepts this as conventional wisdom.

      Not a lot of bright lights around here.

      • Offer a rebuttal, then. Show us the error of our ways.

        • It’s far more interesting to let you all make yourselves out to be fools.

          • Weak.

            At least Francien tries.

          • Francien has her own name on her contributions here. Rick Onan thinks so little of his own opinions that he won’t even admit to them. I suppose shame is a precursor to thought, but the poor wanker can’t seem to make any progress.

          • No, I think that little of your opinions.

          • You faked on online persona as an expression of indifference? I guess that’s about as credible as anything else you’ve ever said.

            Even as an anonymous troll, you have failed. You set your expectations incredibly low, and you still failed to achieve them. If I had a tissue, I might shed a tear for you. But I’m right out, so I guess I’ll indulge myself and just laugh and laugh. (Which I am doing now)

      • You can, maybe, refer us to an objective source for public affairs information?

        • Your mom.

          • Thanks. I’m pretty she’d be flattered, but I won’t be able to discuss these matters with her until I join her on the other side of the great veil.

      • B.S.