Students should be outraged by the current Senate scandal


Illustration by David Corrigan/Ryersonian Staff. Photo credit Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press.

Something smells in Ottawa.

The litter box that is the Canadian Senate, which has changed far too infrequently since 1867, finally overpowered the halls of Parliament and its odious scent is too strong to ignore.

There is a scandal taking shape on Parliament Hill that threatens the fate of our chamber of “sober second thought.”

The controversy surrounds a handful of senators who may or may not have made improper expense claims, and a prime minister who may or may not have been party to a conspiracy to cover it up.

It is unclear just how severe the fallout from this scandal will be, but the future of the Senate is far from bright.

In his rant on CBC’s The National last week, Rex Murphy described the Senate as a “great, grim patronage pit.” I don’t often agree with Murphy, but he’s right — Canadians should probably stop throwing $106 million (not including pension costs) into this pit each year.

What I’ve learned over the last week is just how much influence the Prime Minister’s Office, and likely Stephen Harper himself, has over the Senate. The prime minister exerts a remarkable amount of control on the Conservative senators, which is becoming more clear to Canadians with each passing day. Instead of a chamber of sober second thought, it is more like a secondary tool of the PMO and a serious threat to the future of Canadian democracy.

If Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau are suspended this week — and the details of this fiasco never see the light of the day — it will likely be business as usual in Ottawa. If this goes away now, Harper might even get re-elected in two years. The 2013 Senate debacle will become a distant memory.

But here’s the real shocker: nobody is doing anything about it. The Harper Conservatives have talked about reforming the Senate for years now, but it is obviously just a joke at this point. When Harper mentioned his party’s intention to reform the Senate in the House of Commons last week, opposition leader Tom Mulcair asked him “How’s that going for you?” The House laughed like they were in the studio audience of a crappy television sitcom.

I don’t think I’m over-simplifying when I say the following: somebody is lying. Duffy says Harper knew about a questionable $90,000 cheque that was given to Duffy to repay his bloated expense claims. Harper says he did not know. Something is amiss. Whatever consequences this scandal has for Harper and the Conservatives — and they don’t look good — is unclear. Harper has managed to avoid controversy for quite a long time as prime minister. It’s part of his charm, I guess. But he might be in too deep this time. Only time will tell.

What we should be most concerned about in the long term is the very existence of the Senate in the first place. What better time to have a serious discussion about reform or abolition when all eyes are focused squarely on them?

As students, we are the future leaders of this country — at least, that’s what they keep telling me. We will someday inherit the Parliament of Canada, and it will become our responsibility to steer this democracy in the right direction. If the current government chooses to ignore the elephant in the room, then we might be wise to elect a government that won’t.

This Senate controversy has raised a more important question: aren’t all Senate expenses inappropriate?

If the current generation of political leadership is unwilling to clean the kitty litter, then I guess we will just have to do it ourselves.

The smell isn’t going away on its own.

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