After a powerful QP in the House yesterday, it was an equally exciting evening in the Senate – in particular, the Board of Internal Economy, which was opened to the public for the first time. And it was amazing. While Senate QP was focused on Senator Tkachuk, who was badgered incessantly about his decision to go easy on Senator Mike Duffy in the audit report because he had paid back his expenses (though they didn’t know at the time that it was with funds from Nigel Wright), Tkachuk nevertheless took the chair at the committee. But while there was an expectation that the Conservatives might try to defend or justify their actions, it was almost the opposite. In fact, the Conservatives on that committee, most especially Senators Claude Carignan and Elizabeth Marshall – the Whip and a former Auditor General in Newfoundland – were systematically tearing down all of the various excuses that Duffy had made previously about how it was a temporary assistant who filed improper per diem claims and so on. In fact, the whole committee meeting opened with the Senate Clerk and the financial officers describing that once they started looking at Duffy’s per diem claims, there was a systematic pattern of his claiming per diems for days when he was not in Ottawa and not on Senate business. (It should be noted that the audit didn’t pick this up because it was looking at Duffy’s residence claims, and was checking whether he was in Ottawa or PEI, but when the media began looking at the dates in the audit as compared to campaign claims and other business, this pattern emerged). In fact, the pattern that also emerged was one where Duffy was not only claiming Senate expenses when he was campaigning – which is clearly against the rules – he was also being paid by the campaigns for his appearances, which is clearly “double dipping.”
The fix was in for Duffy from that point on. Conservative Senator Larry Smith moved to have the report sent to the “proper authorities” – meaning the RCMP, but Liberal Senator George Furey then moved that the reference to the RCMP also include the $90,000 that Duffy received from Wright – which the Conservatives agreed to – and then Furey moved to put in the damning references back into the audit report. And again, there were no objections. In other words, the Conservatives in the Senate have now moved to distance themselves from Duffy. With the file now headed to the RCMP, and the audit once again concluding that his primary residence is not in PEI, that puts him on very shaky ground, and gives reason for the Senate to move to expel him at pretty much any time they’re ready to – once due process has been followed, of course. And Duffy? Was nowhere to be seen, despite insisting that all would be revealed, that he wanted an open process. In fact, it was pointed out that he was notified in every which way to appear and that he was given every opportunity to show up, and he chose not to. And considering everything that came out from the clerk and financial officer, it’s not that surprising.
Here is a timeline of the entire ClusterDuff affair, in case you need a refresher.
John Ivison says that the ClusterDuff affair has weakened our negotiation position with regards to the Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement, because Harper will likely rush to secure a flawed deal that he can defend rather than to continue to face questions on the ethical lapses in his office. Interesting theory.
Not to be outdone, the Conservatives – mostly in the House, but also Senator Vern White – are making noise about Liberal Senator Pana Merchant and her husband’s offshore accounts, and that an investigation needs to happen. The point is valid, but it’s also being used as a kind of crude “the Liberals are just as bad!” distraction device, which helps nobody at a time like this.
It’s a story that comes back every so often, and it’s here again – the estimated tab for paying out Senators if the Upper Chamber should be abolished. Absent from said calculus, however, is the increase in costs for things that the Senate does on the cheap – things like the costs of court challenges for flawed legislation that passes the House because MPs can’t do their due diligence and which the Senate would normally catch, or the costs of doing the kinds of in-depth policy work that the Senate does (and you can’t simply say that think tanks will pick up the slack because the Senate’s policy work is bipartisan and reflects a greater share of viewpoints than most think tanks are capable of), or the costs of setting up Royal Commissions to do the kind of inquiry work that the Senate does as a matter of course using existing resources. So no, abolishing the Senate won’t actually save money. In fact, it’s almost certain to cost more.
Oh, and PEI has come out against Senate abolition. I’m not sure that Premier Ghiz understands the realities of a “Triple-E” Senate like he’s talking about (hint: It’s more of a buzz-word that won’t actually do most of what it promises), or the constitutional guarantee that no province will lose seats in the House, but it’s a start anyway.
The other big story out of yesterday was the Chief Electoral Officer visiting committee, and he dropped a couple of bombs of his own – that the Conservatives haven’t been cooperating into the investigations into fraudulent robocalling in places like Guelph, and that they haven’t consulted him on their electoral reform bill, which has yet to be tabled (and likely won’t be until the fall given the talk of a summer prorogation, despite the ticking clock of the needing to give Elections Canada time to make changes on their end before the 2015 election).
The Not Criminally Responsible bill passed second reading last night, with the Liberals voting against (the NDP saying they wanted to at least let it get to committee). The Liberals outlined their reasons why on their website – in particular, that it does nothing but increase stigma against the mentally ill, even though Rob Nicholson doesn’t believe that’s the case as the same level of treatment will be available to these individuals. Erm, I think he’s missing the point there.
Amidst the talk of a summer cabinet shuffle, Jim Flaherty insists he has no plans on going anywhere and wants to stick around until the deficit is eliminated. That’s sweet and all, but it’s not exactly up to him now, is it?
Here’s the video of 79-year-old Jean Chrétien kitesurfing in North Carolina.
And here’s a bit about Harry Rosen using Justin Trudeau’s image – unauthorised – in their latest ad.