Shame Day: Sex, Money and the Canadian Senate

What do the following senators Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy have in common?

They are both under scrutiny for wasting government money. Wallin, for charging 300,000 dollars of travel expenses to the Canadian Government under what she claims to have been “an accounting error” and Duffy for billing “both the Senate and the Conservative Party on the days that he campaigned for the Tory candidates.

But that’s not all.

Senator Patrick Brazeau is also receiving some heat from the public for misspending and was put on a (paid) leave of absence in February after sexual assault charges were leveled against him.

So how did all of these lovely people end up with a guaranteed government position until they are 75 years old, all while raking in a basic salary of $135,200.00?

They were appointed.

The Parliament of Canada website explains that the Canadian Senate is actually “the only one in the western world whose members are all appointed.”

The only one? Really? Hmm, I wonder why?

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone appointed to the Senate has taken advantage of the cushy position. Roman Catholic nun Peggy Butts, for example, undertook her role in the Senate with the utmost dedication, and for her short duration in government she also donated her entire salary to charity.

While the Senate is supposed to be the chamber of “Sober second thought,” it’s power is in fact severely limited by an “unwritten constitutional practice” that now generally prevents the Senate from vetoing or delaying any legislation already passed by the House of Commons.

So if they can’t actually do anything about the legislation they are supposed to be soberly studying why are they still around?

Thomas Walkom explains the true reason Senators like Mike Duffy are appointed in his article on the problems with the Canadian senate.

“Duffy wasn’t appointed to the Senate because of his expertise in agriculture and forestry (the name of the standing committee on which he sits). Nor was he appointed because of his detailed knowledge of the problems facing P.E.I., a province that has not been his home for decades.

He was appointed because, in Canadian terms, he was a celebrity — a television personality who could travel the country to motivate Conservative voters and raise money for the party. His job was to be part of Harper’s permanent election campaign.”

So what do we do about it?

While Polls reveal that Canadians clearly want the senate to be reformed or abolished, things continue on much the same as they ever have.

Should we sign more petitions to abolish the senate? Or should we just push for reform? And if the senate was reformed, what would that look like? Do we push for an elected senate like our neighbours to the South?

Or maybe should I just stop complaining and try to get a job in the senate?

2 responses to “Shame Day: Sex, Money and the Canadian Senate

  1. I don’t know what browser you use, but if you use Chrome, do you have the Dictionary of Numbers gadget/app/whatever the younguns are calling ’em these days? I bring it up because it highlighted the $300,000 charge for Wallin as “[≈ cost of raising a child to 17 (upper-income family)]”. She basically charged a child to the Canadian government.

    On the note of enacting government reform at that level, do you think that petitions are effective? I mean, they’re a great way to publicly display your stance on a particular issue, but I don’t feel like we’re ever going to see a message from, say, the White House saying “We saw that one million [which, on a side note, is only 0.3% of the population of the United States, so really not nearly as impressive of a number as you’d think] people signed a petition in favor abolishing the penny, so you know what? We should do that.”

    • Touche Marilyn, I agree that petitions aren’t super effective. These guys seem more hopeful than me however, In my experience, a letter to your local government representative will at least get a response, and I’ve also seen some interesting responses from politicians who were “tweeted at” (thought not by me, I still have yet to master twitter) so I think Social media can actually be effective if used correctly. The reason I even bring it up is to see if anyone actually has a more effective suggestion. I didn’t really feel like shaming just for the sake of shaming. I mean if something is broken, let’s come up with a way to fix it. I realize it’s not that simple, but it’s a starting place. Speaking of which.. any ideas?

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