While Senator Mike Duffy was acquitted of all 31 charges levied against him in accusations of fraud, bribery and breach of trust earlier this month, hopefully things do not continue status quo with how business is conducted in the Senate.
Casual observers can only marvel at the ‘legal speak’ involving the case, that while Duffy may have been exonerated in the court of law, when there is the issue of breaching trust, there is still the court of public opinion to deal with.
Caught up in the finger-pointing of who really is to blame from former Prime Minister Stephen Harper on down over many of Duffy’s questionable financials in conducting Senate business, is how can Senate rules be so vague as to allow a situation where 31 charges against Duffy were able to come to fruition in the first place?
Third-party services funneled through friend Gerald Donohue for such commonalities as editorial services, makeup and fitness training were ‘appropriate.’
Pre-signed travel expenses, according to ruling judge Charles Vaillancourt, have Senate rules that have “broad but not limitless discretion.” Vaillancourt also said there was never formal training on these travel expense policies, leaving senators “unreasonably” to their own devices.
As a stroke of luck, Senate business that was canceled had just happened to perfectly coincide to the same location where his daughter had a play. ‘Incidental’ was the term used.
A local dog show coincided with speaking about the Conservative’s Economic Action Plan.
‘Opportunistic’ was the term used of another vague event that coincided with a visit to see his grandchild.
Vaillancourt noted that Duffy was not in financial straits that might have served as a financial motive. Apparently, if you do not need the money, the degree of moral ambiguity is not as sinister in charging questionable expenses to the taxpayer.
While some of Duffy’s transactions might be deemed “unorthodox,” they were not criminal, Vaillancourt ruled of hundreds of thousands of dollars of questionable expenses.
While not considered criminally wrong due to vague Senate parametres, can not even the most casual observer see there is a disconnect from reality here on many different levels?
A professional career that has spanned print, radio and television journalism since the 1960s, including The National, Duffy covered many of the same issues in the past he was on trial for along with similar suspicions levied at former Canadian television personality Pamela Wallin in the Senate.
Given the degree of public trust a journalist needs to do their job effectively, the naivete of ‘just following orders’ is a tough pill to swallow, given the amount of investigative journalism both Duffy and Wallin have done in the past.
If these are indeed the vague orders members of the Senate are allowed to follow when it comes to padding their expense accounts, those orders need to be overhauled in its expense rules, increasing its transparency and establishing a system of independent and regularized oversight.
Canadian senators are not elected, they are appointed by the Governor General of Canada on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada.
A senator’s working hours are not as strenuous as those of Members of Parliament (MPs). Senators don’t have to campaign to get re-elected.
In 2014, the Senate sat on just 83 days. For the fiscal year 2015-2016, all Canadian Senators made a basic salary of $142,400.
According to http://www.canadaonline.about.com, an audit of the Auditor General of Canada has covered the expenses of 117 current and former senators, recommending 10 of the cases be referred to the RCMP for investigation.
Another 30 or so cases of “problematic spending” were discovered, primarily having to do with travel or residency expenses.
It is scary to think such a prominent arm of the Canadian political system has such a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to taxpayer dollars for a job that is already well compensated for the actual amount of days served in a calendar year for the job in question.
Hopefully, the Duffy acquittal will serve as a wake-up call that Canadians demand concrete reform in the Senate for these types of issues in the future.