Shut down the Senate? Maybe not, but Canadian PM can still clamp down on corruption

Published: February 13, 2013


Patrick Brazeau

Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau leaves the Senate after being suspended, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 in Ottawa, Ont. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Many moons ago, when on a term secondment, I went to act as area manager of a social services unit up north in B.C. There I badly needed a lamp for my office desk. The light up in the ceiling over my head was not enough. It was causing a lot of strain on my eyes. I ordered a small lamp, not too expensive, out of my office furniture budget. It cost the government about 40 dollars.

As every expense I incurred had to be approved by the Regional Manager, my boss, when he received the purchase voucher, called me and asked me to return the lamp. No argument, just return it. “The government has put a cap on all office spending,” he said. I returned the lamp and managed without it until I took one from my home.

Now, fast forward two decades. I read about the individuals appointed to review and debate issues of national interest and offer their sober second-thoughts, and who are compensated with much bigger annual salaries ($130,000) and allowances to do a job. You would think they wouldn’t have a need to nibble on public cheese like rats.

Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau using his father-in-law’s residential address as his own and claiming housing allowance; Senator Mike Duffy designating his Prince Edward Island cottage as his primary residence to claim living expenses while actually living in Ottawa; Liberal Senator Mac Harb trying to do the same. But they are not the only ones. The late Liberal Senator Andrew Thompson collected his full salary and allowances while he basked in the hot Mexican sun.

When Jennifer Ditchburn reported on Brazeau’s pitiful attendance record in the Senate, he tried to get even with her. He wrote to her to change her family name from Ditchburn to Bitchburn by replacing the letter “D” with “B”. And Mr. Duffy! He told a reporter to find an adult job instead of asking him questions about the ethics of his behaviour. How convenient for him to forget who he was for so long!

What burns my biscuits most is that these individuals, especially Mr. Brazeau, grossly lack intellectual and emotional maturity. He cannot differentiate between what is ethically and legally right and what only feels good materially.

How mature would you consider a 34-year-old individual, who has criminal allegations trailing behind him? Not much in my books. What kind of a sober second thought could he provide to multidimensional reviews of legislations debated and passed by Members of Parliament? Perhaps he should stick to the boxing arena. Oh wait, that didn’t work out so well for him either.

An alleged offender is innocent until proven guilty. I also know that victims don’t just sit around concocting schemes to make 911 calls and frame a sitting senator with sexual assault allegations. But I have known all along “Where there is smoke there is fire.”

No child abuse complaint ever went uninvestigated under my supervision. Do you believe I would have considered an applicant for a job rumoured to be living under allegations of sexual harassment? No, I was always prepared to err in favour of children in my care. I would not have touched that applicant with a 10-foot pole. There were allegations against Mr. Brazeau. I wonder why our Prime Minister did not do a thorough vetting before he appointed him Senator for 41 years.

The darker side of Brazeau’s behaviour, such as questioning Chief Theresa Spence over whether she was really on a hunger strike, is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black.

I know Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to shut down the red chamber, but he cannot do it alone amidst the clash of wills. Shutting down the Senate could be as difficult for him as repealing the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms. However, what he can still do is to tighten the nuts and bolts harder to stop expense abuse by his Cabinet Ministers and Senators. He still has plenty of time to be remembered as a Prime Minister who had a vision to fight corruption.

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