Thursday, May 30, 2013

Abolish the Senate! We Don't Need It!

Chris Hall: Why the Mike Duffy Senate scandal still perk-olates
How to explain Duffy's 'expanded role within the party'
By Chris Hall,
CBC News
Posted: May 31, 2013
Senator Mike Duffy. What exactly was his 'expanded role' within the party. (Fred Chartrand / Canadian Press)
Two weeks in and the Senate expenses scandal involving former TV journalist Mike Duffy lives on. And once again, the fuel keeping it alive comes from an email written by the senator himself.
CBC News obtained a copy of a message Duffy sent to a Conservative strategist in July 2009 — just six months after Prime Minister Stephen Harper named him to the Senate — asking for advice on how he should be compensated for ''my expanded role with the party.''
He'd already discussed the idea with fellow Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein, who also happens to chair the party's hugely successful fundraising arm.
In the email, Duffy wrote that Gerstein had said ''what do I want/need and he'll make it happen."
Duffy then suggested to Gerstein that he (Duffy) be made a junior cabinet minister to get the staff, car and resources that go with the position.
"He (Gerstein) laughed and said he didn't think THAT was within the realm of the Cons. Fund,'' Duffy wrote. "So my question is what do I demand?"
He goes on. "Should I request a one-on-one with Stephen.''
The answer to the first question — what do I demand? — remains a mystery. Gerstein did not respond to interview requests, and Duffy would not elaborate when contacted by the CBC.
But the prime minister's office says there was never any one-on-one with the now independent senator about his role in the party, and he was never considered for a cabinet position.
Even so, the email underscores the predicament Duffy and the Harper government are in today.
Duffy may not have received any special cabinet-like perks four years ago. But if Gerstein and the Conservative Fund were so willing to backstop his political work, why did the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, feel the need to step in and pay the $90,000 to cover Duffy's questionable Senate expenses?
Damage control
Conservative insiders have acknowledged the former broadcaster was one of their best fundraisers and biggest political draws.
In fact, his reputation for both was so highly regarded that when Harper took to the road in 2009 to sell the new Conservative budget, he took Duffy along at one point to serve as warm-up act and master of ceremonies.
Duffy was also a regular on the campaign trail in 2011. Records show he billed local campaigns for those appearances, sometimes on days when he also claimed to be on Senate business.
This double billing is just part of the larger issue that Duffy will have to address at some point.
The Senate voted this week for a do-over of the original audit into his expenses, and it endorsed a proposal initiated by his former Conservative colleagues to formally ask the RCMP to investigate.
The issue confronting Harper is how to contain the political damage, and so far nothing is working.
The fallout has already deprived the prime minister of the services of his chief of staff. But even that hasn't staunched the wound.
At first, certain cabinet ministers applauded Wright's decision to repay Duffy's dubious expenses with $90,000 out of his pocket. Saving taxpayers' money, they said.
When that failed, they praised Wright for resigning and accepting sole responsibility. It was the honourable thing to do, they said.
But when more questions were raised in the Commons about what the prime minister knew about the Wright-Duffy entanglement, and about why he waited almost five days to accept Wright's resignation, the Conservatives reverted to a more familiar tactic.
Harper and Heritage Minister James Moore went on the attack, accusing the New Democrats and Liberals of expenses and tax-avoiding scandals of their own.
'The facts are clear'
Harper missed Question Period on Thursday, or perhaps a better word is skipped. Either way, he still couldn't escape the controversy.
Reporters took advantage of a joint news conference with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera to ask the prime minister how he could not have known about Wright's role in repaying the money.
"Yeah, look,'' the prime minister said, his tone curt. "Very briefly the facts in this case are clear. They are absolutely clear. They are not good. But they are clear and they are simple.
"Mr. Wright decided to use his own personal money to assist Mr. Duffy to reimburse the taxpayers of Canada. That's what he decided to do and he decided not to tell me until the 15th of May after speculation about the source of the funds appeared in the media.''
Had he been told, the prime minister added, ''I would have said not to do it.''
Strategists will no doubt debate the wisdom of the government's evolving responses, and the effectiveness of responding to a scandal by accusing their opponents of being just as bad.
But there's no debate that this scandal is far from running its course.
Two weeks in, and the Harper government is no longer dealing with just inappropriate expense claims by Duffy (and a handful of others senators) and the lone actions of a trusted adviser.
It has now become a serious challenge to the government's own competence and failure to fully own up to the Duffy-Wright business at the first opportunity.
And for that, the prime minister and his team have no one to blame but themselves.

Stephen Harper’s response to the Senate scandal is lame: EditorialThe opposition in Parliament needs to keep up the pressure to get to the bottom of the Senate scandal.
Opinions / Editorials
Thursday, May 30, 2013
New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair challenges Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons in Ottawa Monday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is spinning faster than a weather vane in a Prairie windstorm, trying to put some distance between his embattled office and Conservative wrongdoing in the Senate. But bob and weave as he may, he can’t make the stench go away.
Under fierce grilling in the House of Commons this week, Harper claimed to know nothing of a decision by his former chief of staff Nigel Wright to cut Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy a cheque for $90,172 to pay back improperly claimed expenses, until CTV News broke the story. He said “to my knowledge” there was no legal agreement between Wright and Duffy.
Harper also said he has “no information” about anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office telling Duffy to clam up after getting the money and to stop co-operating with auditors who were poking into his dubious expense claims. And Harper claimed no knowledge of efforts to have a Senate subcommittee whitewash a report on the Duffy audit.
These lame responses, his first response in Parliament and couched in language only a lawyer could love, have just added fuel to the fire. Canadians want answers, not sand in their eyes. Just three weeks ago Peter Van Loan, the government leader in the Commons, was praising Duffy’s “leadership” in repaying his improperly claimed expenses.
Time and again, Harper has dodged New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair’s simple demand that he publicly release all documents related to Wright’s deal with Duffy, including the infamous cheque and an email Wright is said to have sent to Duffy. Harper has also been less than fulsome when Mulcair asked whether the Duffy deal was ever discussed in cabinet, saying only that the deal was never a matter of “public business” at any point. And Harper dodged questions as to who else in the PMO apart from Wright was aware of, or involved in, the cheque affair, and who liaised with Tory senators who whitewashed a report on Duffy’s expenses.
Needless to say, Harper has been mute as a carp over the Senate rules that prohibit senators from accepting sizeable gifts.
Given this serial hedging, Harper’s effort to redirect the public’s attention to the Senate and its belated cleanup effort won’t wash. There’s still concern that the PMO interfered with a Senate probe into Duffy’s expenses in order to prevent politically embarrassing facts from surfacing. The opposition needs to keep up the pressure to get to the bottom of this.
As the Senate internal economy committee has just shown, the Conservative government and its partisans don’t willingly give up their shabby secrets. Government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton may want the public to believe that some senators “betrayed us,” but the Senate didn’t go out of its way to rein in the miscreants until they became a public scandal. Senators finally held a rare open session Tuesday to consider Duffy’s expense claims, and a glimpse of the way they operate was revelatory.
With Canadians watching them, the full internal economy committee, chaired by Sen. David Tkachuk, promptly reversed a decision to go easy on Duffy in a Senate report on his expenses. For Tkachuk and fellow Tory Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen, it was a humiliation. They dominated the three-member subcommittee that altered the report in a way that seemed to exonerate him. Their reasons for doing so have never been convincing.
Alert to the rising furor over Duffy’s expenses the full committee also moved to insulate the Senate by inviting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to take an interest in the case.
Senate clerk Gary O’Brien and director of finances Nicole Proulx also revealed that Duffy had a pattern of claiming living expenses “that raises concerns.” During 2011 and 2012 Duffy repeatedly claimed to be in Ottawa on Senate business, and claimed expenses, when in fact he was outside the city. Senate officials rejected many of his claims but never raised an alarm. The question now is, why not? Just how much impropriety does the Senate wink at when no one is watching?
Yes, the Red Chamber is now under more scrutiny, and that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t let Harper and the PMO off the hook. The Conservatives claim to be all about accountability and transparency. We’re nowhere close.
The Toronto Star published photo's of the members of the Senate. Run your mouse over the face of individual Senators, and their traveling and living expenses will be revealed.

Harper not in question period to address Senate scandal

Secret payment to cover Mike Duffy's housing claims dominates question period
By Leslie MacKinnon
CBC News
Posted: May 27, 2013
Opposition NDP Leader Tom Mulcair fired off questions in the House of Commons today about the $90,000 payment from the prime minister's chief of staff to Senator Mike Duffy, deliberately addressing the queries to the prime minister, even though Stephen Harper was absent from question period.
"Does the prime minister think it's business as usual for a senator to defraud taxpayers? Is it business as usual to give a $90,000 payoff?" asked Mulcair.
Standing in for the prime minister, Heritage Minister James Moore blamed the NDP for not supporting the government's plans for Senate reform, which include a mandate for elected-only senators, and a reference about legal questions on term limits and Senate elections to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Harper has not yet answered questions from opposition MPs about the $90,000 cheque written by Nigel Wright as a gift to defray Duffy's improperly claimed Senate expenses. He was on a trade-related trip in South America last week, and does not always attend question period on Mondays.
Moore deflected Mulcair's questions by asking how many of his NDP MPs have not paid their taxes. Last week, it was revealed two NDP MPs, Tyrone Benskin and Hoang Mai, who was once the NDP's
"Isn't that a fact, the revenue critic for the NDP is one of the people who didn't pay taxes to Revenue Canada.There's so many jokes that come to mind about the NDP, I don't even know where to begin, but the fact is the NDP do not stand up for taxpayers, as they're showing by their own," Moore said.
Later in question period, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre used the words "tax cheats" and "tax evaders," about the NDP.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau asked if the Conservatives would support a Liberal motion to be put before the ethics committee that would demand Wright and Harper appear as witnesses to explain why Wright paid Duffy's expenses out of his own pocket, and what the prime minister might have known about the payment.
In reply, Moore threw back at Trudeau a remark the Liberal leader made over the weekend. Reading from an article in the French-language newspaper La Presse, Moore quoted Trudeau's remarks.
"He made it so very clear on this weekend that he doesn't believe in Senate reform 'because we have 24 senators in Quebec and there are only six for Alberta and British Columbia. That benefits us. It's an advantage for Quebec.'" Moore said.
"All Canadians should be served by national institutions and the Liberal leader should stop dividing Canadians again and again over these matters."
In an interview with La Presse on Saturday, Trudeau took issue with the NDP's campaign to abolish the Senate, particularly as it could affect his home province of Quebec, where the NDP holds most of its seats.
Trudeau pointed out that Quebec's 24 Senate seats, in comparison with the six Senate seats of each western province, give it weight.
"It's to our advantage. Abolishing it, this is demagoguery," he said in French, referring to Mulcair's campaign.
Trudeau's comments also drew criticism from western premiers. A few hours before question period began, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall tweeted, " Disappointed in @JustinTrudeau. He opposes abolition because Senate status quo gives advantage to Que over the west."
Alberta Premier Alison Redford tweeted soon after, "Disappointed by @Justin Trudeau's comments. No need to pit AB/BC against regions. We need elected, equal senate, accountable to Cdns."
Some MPs made an issue of Harper's absence from question period. NDP MP Charlie Angus referred to Harper as "the peekaboo prime minister."
Others were critical of the role of Conservative senators in softening the Senate report on Duffy's expenses by removing paragraphs that were critical of his claims his primary residence is in P.E.I.
Duffy repaid $90,000 to the Senate in expenses he'd claimed for what he says he mistakenly considered a secondary residence in Ottawa, using the money he was given by Wright.
NDP MP Pat Martin called the government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton an "artifact of the golden era of Gucci shoes," apparently referring to the fact that she was appointed by former prime minister Brian Mulroney, said to have a closet full of the expensive shoes
Liberal MP Bob Rae asked how it could be possible that Conservative senators Carolyn Stewart Olsen and David Tkachuk, the two senators who redacted the Duffy report, could now "stand and judge their own behaviour." Stewart Olsen and Tkachuk are on the committee that will supervise a further audit of Duffy's expenses.
Moore replied the government simply doesn't agree with Rae's characterization of Stewart Olsen's and Tkachuk's behaviour, and if the Liberals don't like it, they can complain to the ethics commissioner. The ethics commissioner is already examining the propriety of Wright's cheque to Duffy.
Liberal MP Marc Garneau, responding to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons, addressed the fact the prime minister is rarely in question period Mondays. "This is not an ordinary Monday. This is a situation where this government has been basically, in the past 12 days, facing its greatest scandal in the seven years that it has been the government."
Conservative MP Mark Wawara told reporters: "Well, the prime minister has a very busy schedule and I believe he will be in the House this week."
Harper is expected to attend question period Tuesday.
Here is a copy of the email I received on 29 May 2013. Comments are by others.
Subject::..... I Think SHE IS PISSED!                 
I don't think pissed really covers it!!!!

Jeff Smith, the Senator from Québec calls senior citizens the Greediest Generation as he compared "Social Security " to a Milk Cow with over a million teats.

Here's a response in a letter from PATTY JOHNSTONE in Ontario ... I think she is a little ticked off! She also tells it like it is!

Oh sooo true!
"Hey Jeff, let's get a few things straight!!!!!

1. As a career politician, you have been on the public dole (tit) for FIFTY YEARS.

2. I have been paying CPP & OHIP for 48 YEARS (since I was 15 years old. I am now 63).

3. My Canada Pension payments, and those of millions of other Canadians, were safely tucked away in an interest bearing account for decades until you political pukes decided to raid the account and give OUR money to a bunch of zero losers in return for votes, thus bankrupting the system and turning Social Security into a Ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff proud.

4. Recently, just like Lucy & Charlie Brown, you and "your ilk" pulled the proverbial football away from millions of Canadian seniors nearing retirement and moved the goalposts for full retirement from age 65 to age, 67. NOW, you and your "shill commission" are proposing to move the goalposts YET AGAIN.

5. I, and millions of other Canadians, have been paying into OHIP & CPP from Day One, and now "you morons" propose to change the rules of the game. Why? Because "you idiots" mismanaged other parts of the economy to such an extent that you need to steal our money from OHIP & CCP to pay the bills.

6. I, and millions of other Canadians, have been paying income taxes our entire lives, and now you propose to increase our taxes yet again. Why? Because you "incompetent bastards" spent our money so profligately that you just kept on spending even after you ran out of money. Now, you come to the Canadian taxpayers and say you need more to pay off YOUR debt.

To add insult to injury, you label us "greedy" for calling "bullshit" to your incompetence. Well, Captain Bullshit, I have a few questions for YOU:

1. How much money have you earned from the Canadian taxpayers during your pathetic 50-year political career?

2. At what age did you retire from your pathetic political career, and how much are you receiving in annual retirement benefits from the Canadian taxpayers?

3. How much do you pay for YOUR government provided health insurance?

4. What cuts in YOUR retirement and healthcare benefits are you proposing in your disgusting deficit reduction proposal, or as usual, have you exempted yourself and your political cronies?

It is you, Captain Bullshit, and your political co-conspirators called Parliament who are the "greedy" ones. It is you and your fellow nutcase thieves who have bankrupted the Canadian Pension, OHIP and stolen the Canadian dr
eam from millions of loyal, patriotic taxpayers.

And for what? Votes and your job and retirement security at our expense, you lunk-headed, leech.

That's right, sir. You and yours have bankrupted our benefits for the sole purpose of advancing your pathetic, political careers. You know it, we know it, and you know that we know it.

And you can take that to the bank, you miserable son of a bitch. NO, I didn't stutter.

P.S. And stop calling CPP & OHIP "entitlements". WHAT AN INSULT!!!!

I have been paying in to the CPP system for 45 years "It's my money"- give it back to me the way the system was designed and stop patting yourself on the back like you are being generous by doling out
these monthly checks.

Reforming the Senate

Sober second thoughts on a place of sober second thought
Posted: Dec 22, 2008
It's not easy making major changes to a Canadian institution like the Senate. Just ask former B.C. premier Bill Bennett, former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, Reform Party founder Preston Manning and former prime minister Brian Mulroney. Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau would agree, too, but for different reasons.
Now, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has his eye on remaking the upper chamber. It's a view he's held for a long time.
Overhauling the Senate requires constitutional reform, which means the government has to persuade seven provinces containing at least 50 per cent of the population that its plan is in the best interests of everyone. Making subtle changes to the way senators are appointed may be easier: the government believes it only needs to get a bill through Parliament.
After winning a majority government in May 2011, Harper is expected to introduce — for the fourth time — two bills to reform the Senate. That legislation would impose term limits on senators and set a mechanism for the provinces to elect nominees who would then be appointed to the Senate by the prime minister.
But at least one province — Quebec — has said it feels the proposed reforms affect its constitutional rights and that it plans to challenge the legislation in the courts.
Harper's previous efforts to pass the bills failed in the face of opposition in the House of Commons or a Liberal majority in the Senate. Now, however, the Conservatives have majorities in both houses.
Citing certain constitutional authorities, the Harper government is ready to argue that the proposed legislation doesn't require constitutional change.
And at least two provinces — Ontario and Nova Scotia — figure it's time to move beyond any talk of Senate reform and abolish the institution all together.
Creation of Confederation
The Senate, which came into being through the Constitution Act of 1867, was originally meant to act as a balance to the unchecked democracy of the House of Commons. But it didn't take Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, long to decide that giving legislative veto power to a group of appointed wealthy men might not be in the best interests of the country.
The Senate's powers — but not its makeup — were altered so that the upper house could not defeat money bills or delay legislation unreasonably.
However, like the British House of Lords, senators would be allowed to keep their seats — and the salary that came with them — for life.
That changed in 1965 when the government of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson passed legislation that forced senators to retire when they hit the age of 75. Anyone appointed before the legislation passed was exempted from the mandatory retirement rule.
Diverse agendas, similar goals
Calls for significant Senate reform began to be heard in the mid-1970s. Trudeau was making the
case for constitutional reform, highlighted by a charter of rights. At the time, B.C.'s Bennett promoted a new model for the Senate, which he called the "House of the Provinces" in which provincial governments would choose senators to act as their delegates to the central government.
The idea had some support from both sides — but for different reasons. Trudeau, the advocate of a strong central government, felt that a senate made up of provincial representatives might actually weaken the authority of the provincial premiers.
At the time, Canada was undergoing significant demographic shifts. The populations — and economic clout — of Alberta and B.C. were growing much faster than Quebec's. Quebec still held 24 Senate seats while Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. held a combined total of 24.
By 1979, opposition to Trudeau's vision of a regionally enhanced Senate scuttled any notion of reform — as well as efforts to change the constitution. However, Bennett's proposal did serve to revive the idea of Senate reform.
Alberta was next to look at what to do with the Senate. Trudeau's National Energy Program had angered Albertans and then-premier Lougheed was looking for ways to keep Ottawa from intruding into his province's affairs.
Louigheed established a task force to look at ways of reforming the Senate and its recommendation was for the direct election of senators — and an equal number of senators for each province, like the American model.
The task force didn't get much attention in the rest of Canada, but an equal and elected Senate became a rallying cry for many Albertans.
Triple-E and Meech Lake
Then came the Meech Lake accord. It contained a provision that would have changed the way senators are selected. When a Senate vacancy came up, the prime minister would pick a name from a list submitted by the province where the vacancy arose.
As Meech was coming together, Preston Manning was turning his Western populist movement into the Reform Party. Part of its platform was a Triple-E Senate: elected, equal and effective, the latter meaning that an elected Senate would have close to the same powers as the House of Commons.
The Charlottetown accord contained more wide-ranging proposals for Senate reform.
Among the proposals were: an elected Senate — either by popular vote or election by members of provincial or territorial assemblies; six senators from each province and one from each territory; and guaranteed aboriginal representation in the Senate. In addition, the Senate could not defeat the government on a motion of confidence or block the routine flow of legislation relating to taxation, borrowing and appropriation. The accord also said senators should not be eligible to hold cabinet positions.
The reforms would never come to pass, doomed by the accord's rejection in the 1992 national referendum.
The constitutional squabbles, however, did not stop individual provinces from acting.
In 1989, a Senate seat became vacant in Alberta. The provincial government held an election among candidates who wanted the seat. Stan Waters won. A year later, Mulroney — who was still looking for provincial support in ratifying the Meech Lake accord — appointed Waters to the Senate.
Waters died a year later. His vacancy was eventually filled by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien the way prime ministers had always appointed senators.
In fact, it would be almost 20 years before another elected senator would join the chamber. Bert Brown, a longtime champion of Senate reform, took the most votes in Alberta's 2004 Senate election and was appointed in April 2007 by Stephen Harper.
Alberta and B.C. eventually passed legislation that provided for Senate elections. (The B.C. law, however, had a sunset provision and eventually expired.) Saskatchewan introduced legislation to that effect in November 2008.
The Harper era
The Reform Party — and its successor, the Canadian Alliance — continued to call for an elected, equal and effective Senate. But since the Alliance and the Progressive Conservative parties got together to form the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003, these calls have not been as loud.
In the campaign leading up to the January 2006 election, Harper promised to make the Senate a more effective and independent body.
After being elected as prime minister, Harper named Michael Fortier to a vacant Senate seat from Quebec — and then appointed him to his cabinet. (Fortier resigned his Senate seat on Sept. 8, 2008 to run in the federal election but he lost and returned to his law practice in Montreal.)
On May 30, 2006, Harper's government then introduced legislation that would limit senators to eight-year terms.
In December 2006, Harper said he would introduce the Senate appointment consultations act, which would allow government to consult Canadians on Senate appointments. "The bill will see voters choose their preferred Senate candidates to represent their provinces or territories," the government said in announcing the bill.
However, two years and one federal election later, the prime minister had not been able to initiate significant Senate reform. He named 18 new senators to be appointed by the Governor General to the upper chamber in December 2008.
After the May 2011 election, Harper named three defeated Conservative candidates to the Senate. Two of them had given up Senate seats to run in the election.
Also See:
Canada, It's Time to Abolish the Senate!
18 March 2013