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Wednesday 29 May 2013

Senate Reform. First, Get Rid of the Crooks

The Canadian public is aghast at the behaviour of Senator Mike Duffy and the Prime Minister. They have a right to be.

The Government wants you to believe that the issue speaks to the need for Senate Reform. That’s nonsense.  Right now, the Senate is a potential crime scene.  The issue is alleged illegality; abuse of public office, possibly fraud and other violations.  It is also about political ‘spin’. 

The public’s derision should be directed squarely at the perpetrators who feel entitled enough to play fast and loose with the public purse.  This problem did not arise because Senators placed figures in the wrong column, misplaced dinner receipts or, as one person put it, they can't recall “where their dog lives”.   

In the real world, when individuals ‘fiddle’ with someone else’s money, the Mounties are asked to examine what went wrong and to deal with the culprits.

That this was not done, from the very beginning, is what especially offends the public. 

So, I repeat, the issue is not about an unpopular or ‘seemingly’ useless Senate.  It is about public officials ignoring their sworn ‘duty’, believing themselves ‘entitled’, and possessing the right to bestow ‘entitlements’ upon their Senatorial brethren, entitlements not available to other public servants or members of the public.

Then, too, public anger is about the payment of a large sum of money by a no less an official than the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, to assist, ostensibly, the ‘spin’ doctors in making the Mike Duffy Chapter go away.   Where ever that story goes, when the Internal Economy Committee of the Senate feels it has to run a draft of its Report, on misbehaviour by a Senator, by the PMO for sanitization, the problem is greater than one of 'light' fingers.

Even more, when the PMO feels any obligation to protect a Senator who is under an enormous cloud of suspicicion, you need to ask, what kind of people are minding the shop? 

Now that the RCMP has finally been called in, perhaps they will not only audit Senator Duffy, et al, they will enquire as to which officials helped conceal any illegal acts from public view. They should also attempt to determine whether the imprudent Mr. Wright was performing something more than his role, as a ‘fixer’.

The RCMP has a lot of work to do; hopefully, they require no reminding that politicians and other public servants, right up to the level of the PM, enjoy no immunity from the law.

The reference to ‘fixer’ brings up the more ‘political’ matter of ‘spin’. The Duffy Affair represents a perfect case as to why politicians need to keep ‘spin doctors’ in their proper place.

‘Spin’ is accepted as part of the game of politics, but even within that nefarious bag of tricks, there must be limits.

The absolute line of segregation, if you need to ask, is illegality.

However one may dislike the public policy priorities or even the ideology of Steven Harper’s Government, no one, not even Tory partisans, will countenance the invocation of spin to shield a public official, from the law. 

The hint of scandal, in the Duffy Affair, combined with a vague and unapologetic PM, in front of his Caucus, and surrounded by Reporters, silent en route to Peru, was the kindling that really got the public’s dander up. That his approach was to hide, is a manifestation of a man losing touch with basic concepts of honesty, transparency and integrity in Government and a public not ready, just yet, to abandon such principles.

Just possibly, he began to redeem himself, ever so slightly on Tuesday; NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair now having found the right focus. Possibly, the PM possibly also rediscovered something very important: for every Government, the road to decline is short and possibly irreversible when the link to essential virtues, like honesty and integrity, held by ordinary decent citizens, have been broken. 

PM Steven Harper, like so many other political leaders, has signed on to the notion that ‘spin’, if possible, reinforced by a bevy of attack ads, is a cure-all for every deceit.

That is a dreadful error of judgement.

It is no different right here, at home, with the Dunderdale Administration. It would be wrong to place Dunderdale in the same league as the PM, but I suspect that these two, and First Ministers right across this country, are caught in a never ending web of spin.

What have they done?

Most have robbed themselves of the skills that brought them into politics, especially the essential and immeasurable talent to communicate with real people. They have forked over, not just their considerable intuition but possibly their integrity, too.

They have licensed a bunch of young jackasses, with a communications or journalism degree, to set the moral and ethical standards against which their Administrations should operate.  They have given them the keys to ruin their own electability.

This may seem ‘old fashioned’ but, I am confident, the very best lines are those ‘spun’ with the ‘truth’.

The Prime Minister should call in any Senator, whose misappropriation of public money is proven, and tell him/her to get lost and inform the public that he has done so.

The PM needs to take charge; the public don’t really care for the smoke and mirrors. And, they don’t like crooks occupying public offices.

Senate reform?  That may be the easy part. First, get rid of the crooks.