The current senate-expense “scandal” has the media all worked up. I don’t have much original or insightful to say about this matter. Like most Canadians I have no way of knowing where the truth lies.
Nevertheless, here are some of my observations…
First, it seems that both the Harper side and the Duffy/Wallin side of this issue are trying to throw up diversions so we will miss the real issues. For both sides those real issues are damaging, but not monumentally so. Both have given a relatively minor affair much more importance than it deserves.
For Duffy/Wallin the issue is pretty simple. They have claimed expenses they probably should not have claimed. In Duffy’s case the PEI-residence-that-he-rarely-lives-in sounds pretty blatant, but is probably not something that has never been done before.
In fact to accumulate, say, $100,000 worth of illegitimate expenses over a 5 or 6 or 10 year period doesn’t seem all that unusual. If you’ve been doing your accounting incorrectly for that many years those expenses can mount up pretty quickly.
A week or so ago I asked a business acquaintance of mine, who happens to be the CEO of a sizable corporation, if this is as scandalous as it is being made to sound. He felt this type of expense would not be that unusual at all – especially when you factor in travel by business class on a regular basis.
Keeping things in perspective
So there is no doubt that money can be spent on official duties, and there is also no doubt that rules about these things can be reinterpreted over time. So it seems to me that in all these cases – Duffy, Wallin, Harb, and Brazeau – the intelligent course of action – even if they previously were trying to cheat the system – would be to simply say “Gee, I guess my accountant made a mistake. I’ll get that taken care of right away.”
That’s what you would do if you made a 10 year recurring error on your taxes, isn’t it. You’d say, “That’s my bad. I’ll get that taken care of as soon as I can.” Of course you might appeal, or ask for special consideration, or time to pay it off. But to get all self-righteous about it is surely not the way to go.
And then to go around making enemies of your accusers is even worse. These are the people you need to get on your side.
Conspiracy in the PMO
But instead, Duffy is trying to make it sound like there is some sort of conspiracy involved in the PM “ordering” him to pay back these now disallowed expenses. I guess that is supposed to make us feel he has been cheated somehow. Similarly his alligator tears over not having enough money (if his salary is removed) to pay for heart medicine. Maybe he doesn’t realize prescription medicines are covered for Canadians over 65 (he’s 67).
I must admit I didn’t listen to either Wallin’s or Duffy’s speeches in the Senate. But I gather from media reports that her (Wallin’s) primary beef is that she is being treated unfairly – even accusing other Senators of being jealous of her relatively high media profile.
High profile people with high profile entitlements
This is really hard to believe. It makes you feel that there is something oddly arrogant about these media people. And of course there is. What else would you expect from someone who is fawned over as a (minor) “celebrity”, and who is sought after to speak at conventions and fund-raisers?
No doubt Harper and Co. are not blameless in this affair. I suspect many Canadians think Harper has been more than a bit hypocritical in his treatment of the Senate generally, and just a bit too zealous in going after these particular Senators. It’s almost as though there’s a secret agenda. That would be strange, wouldn’t it.