Sunday, October 27, 2013

Stephen Harper’s Senate Woes

It is amazing how things change in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa isn’t it?

Take the curious cases of Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin for example.  Mike and Pam were appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper.  This was quite a coup for him… two trained Media celebs to carry the good word of Stephen Harper and to fill his purse with coins of silver.

The fact that attendees to the various Harper functions would bypass a chance to meet Stephen for an opportunity to hobnob with celebrities like Mike or Pam didn’t bother Stephen in the least.  They were professional speakers who could carry the message and as I said, people were willing to part with their hard earned money to see real Celebs.

So what happened?  I’m not entirely sure, but what looked to be an attempt to embarrass the Liberals in the Senate turned nasty on the Harper picks instead.  When the Harper dominated Senate turned its guns on Liberal Senator Mac Harb, trying to show that he was milking or bilking the system to line his pockets, someone noticed that a certain Senator “from” PEI had been living in the Ottawa area for decades.

He was doing the same thing!

And when the nets were cast a bit wider, Pam Wallin hit the radar as well for her travel expenses and the fact that she appears to live in Toronto rather than Saskatchewan like everyone was saying.

Now many want to blame the “Liberal Media” for all of this, but the story broke first in the National Post.  Everyone else showed up after that because they smelled blood in the water.

Then we had Stephen Harper defending Pam Wallin, saying that he had reviewed her expenses and that they were similar to other Parliamentarians from Saskatchewan and defending Mike Duffy after he repaid his excess expenses.  He said Mike was honourable and showed leadership in the Senate by repaying the money.  I think we all remember this, don’t we?

When Deloitte finished their reports on Harb, Duffy, and Brazeau, the Senate Internal Economy Committee (Internal) tabled their reports on the matter and washed their hands of it. 

The reports from Internal said that Harb and Brazeau has been cheating, claiming expenses that they were not entitled to, but the report on Duffy had been white washed to say that Good Old Duff had just been confused by the Senate Rules and besides, he had repaid the money.

And the bucket of paint and brushes appear to have come from the PMO as well as a cheque for $90,000.00 for cover Duffy’s debt.

Senators objected to the obvious kid glove treatment of Duffy compared to the stern admonishments for the enemy Liberal Harb and the Senate embarrassment Brazeau.  The matter was handed over to the RCMP to investigate and let the Senate say we can’t do anything until after the RCMP is done.

The issue lay there for a while until the Fund Raising Reports started to come in.  The Harper Party was being hurt, they weren’t getting the money they were used to.  The Party Base was angry and there was one obvious reason why… actually three.

The Harper Party needed to distance themselves from these three Senators.  Brazeau was already out of the Caucus and out of the Senate as well.  Having been charged with crimes, the Senate was able to put Brazeau on a “Leave of Absence” which the Rules of the Senate allowed for.  Duffy and Wallin both needed to be shoved aside.  Both received orders to quit the Harper Party Caucus.

Duffy maintains that he was bullied into leaving the Caucus by threats of expulsion from the Senate, former Harper Party Government Leader in the Senate Marjory Le Breton refutes this by saying the same thing.  Go figure.

Wallin on the other hand says she was trying to negotiate the wording of her statement that she was willing to recuse herself from the Caucus until the matter of her expenses was cleared up except Senator Le Breton beat her to the punch, pre-emptively announcing that Wallin too had resigned from the Caucus.

Things sat quietly simmering until the recent announcement of Senator Claude Carignan, Leader of the Government in the Senate that he was making a motion to have Senators Duffy, Wallin, and Brazeau suspended from the Senate without pay.

And now Stephen Harper is applauding this move by the man that he appointed to the Senate, who that he named as the Senate Government Leader, but says that he and his office had no influence on this.  Whatever.

Embattled Senators Duffy and Wallin have now gone from Harper Party show ponies to being the sacrificial lambs at the Harper Party altar.  It really must hurt to move from being knights and bishops on the board to being mere pawns in the game…

Surprisingly, a fair number of people from across the political spectrum have risen in defence of Senators Duffy, Wallin, and by association, Brazeau.  The latest move of the Harper Party to suspend people who are merely accused of something rankles people in Canada.

The Harper echo boxes are trying to argue this, but Canadians believe in the law and that the rule of law needs to be used fairly.  What Senator Carignan proposes is not fair, and may not even be allowed under the Rules of the Senate.

Those rules outline the use of Leave of Absence (LoA) and Suspensions in the Senate and the Suspension Rules do not apply to any of the three accused as I read it.  If a Senator is charged with a crime, the Senate may place that Senator on a LoA, and if that Senator is convicted and subject to jail time the Senate may place that Senator on Suspension.

The section of the Rules that deals with LoAs and Suspension also state:

 For greater certainty, the Senate affirms the right of a Senator charged with a criminal offence to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. No intent to comment on or pass judgment with respect to a Senator shall be imputed to the Senate because of the operation of this rule.

Emphasis mine, BC

Stephen, the issue isn’t about the money.  The money is only a part of it.  The issue is of fairness and rule of law.  I suspect these ideas are foreign to you.  Your statements only refer to expenses and return of money, you disregard the other rules.

Senator Segal gets it, Senator Plett gets it too.  There are reports that some of the MPs in your Caucus get it as well and that they have been contacting their counterparts in the Senate urging them to vote against Senator Carignan’s motion.

I’d suggest the Party Base gets it too.

Mike Duffy says that you told him that the problem was that the Party Base didn’t like the appearance of what he had done.  I’m inclined to believe him.  You did not chastise him for the expenses, you only told him to pay them back.

I’m not a fan of Senators Duffy, Wallin, and Brazeau.  I don’t think that they deserve to sit in the Senate, but I also believe they do not deserve the treatment that you and your people are putting them through.

One last question Stephen, if you can ask Senator Carignan for me… Why is Senator Stewart Olsen not sitting beside the others in the Independent’s Corner.  She did the same thing they did, but she’s allowed to sit in judgement?

Could it be that the Party Base is angry with you, Stephen?

Just wondering, BC

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pamela, Mike, and Pat in Wonderland

I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with a Conservative today.

Senator Hugh Segal has stepped up in defence of Senator Pamela Wallin and as much as it bothers me to say it, he’s right.

I haven’t changed my stance on Pam Wallin, I still have doubts whether she should be in the Senate based solely on the residency requirements listed in the Constitution, but I still believe that everyone is entitled to their day in court, even Pam Wallin, even Mike Duffy, and even Pat Brazeau.

The announcement that the Senate was going after these three Senators makes it look like the Harper Party Loyalists has tossed away their Flags and Hockey Sticks for new attire.  Playing Cards with Hearts on them would seem far more appropriate today.

‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first — verdict afterwards.’

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Senator Segal raises a number of points that need to be considered, starting with the fact that the Senate called in the RCMP to look into the affairs of Ms. Wallin et al and that the investigations have not yet been completed.

Another issue that Senator Segal raises is that the rules that Wallin stands accused of breaking, were not rules when they were broken.

Sort of like sending out retroactive speeding tickets when the speed limit is reduced on a certain street.

The travelling to stump for candidates and to fundraise for them was not only allowable when she made those trips, it was encouraged.  It was part of the training for the new Senators brought in under Harper’s reign.  I might not like it and you might not like it, but it was within the rules at the time.

Personally I’d like to see more distance between the Senate and the House politically, but I know that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Senator Segal is not alone in his stance on the attack on these Senators.

#cdnpoli Cons. Sens to suspend 3 Sens w/o pay. Suspension within powers of Senate? Yes. Without pay? Don't think so. ....2/

Now who really cares what someone on Twitter has to say on this matter?

I do.  Robert Walsh is a recently retired Law Clerk for the House of Commons.  He is the person that MPs went to when they had legal questions to do with House business.  Maybe that should read the Law Clerk.  The House of Commons may have many lawyers, but only one Law Clerk.

He’s not just another pretty face.

One of the things that Mr. Walsh points out is that the Senate does not have the power or authority to suspend a Senator’s pay.  They do have the ability to suspend a Senator and stop them from being in the Senate Chambers or use their Senate Privileges, but not to stop their pay.  Pat Brazeau is a perfect example.  Most of us were ticked when Brazeau was “punished” by being told to stay home, but that his pay would continue.  It seems hardly fair, but that’s the way the rules work.

But the rules exist for a reason.  Could you imagine what would happen if the mere accusation if improper conduct was enough to get you expelled from the Senate without pay?  The majority party would be able to pick off individuals they didn’t like and have them tossed and their pay withheld for the remainder of the session.

For a wealthy Senator, like Wallin this might not be a horrid thing, but for a Senator who doesn’t have a bag of money to fall back on this could be devastating.  What a useful tool to force your opponents to vote your way.

There are some others who are watching this unfold with interest.

Members in the House of Commons on both sides are waiting to see what happens.  If these Senators are suspended without pay for improper conduct without a trial, it could well set a precedent… and this precedent could be used in the House of Commons as well.  Both the Senate and the House operate under the same rules for many things, this is one of them.

I’m not a betting cat, but if I were, I’d be putting my pennies on the Harper Party wanting Wallin to win out on this one.  Why?  Because he’s about run out of electioneering items and he’s love to go to war on “Cleaning Up the Senate.”  Never mind that He’s the genius who put these people in there in the first place and that he’s appointed just as many, if not more exjournalists, failed politicians, and party bagmen as any other leader in our history.

Look, I think we can all agree that the Senate and the naming of Senators is a question that needs to be looked at, but now is not the time.  The first order of business is to let the RCMP do their investigations and then lay charges if there is evidence of wrongdoing.

And if they’re guilty, fire their butts out of there with my blessing.

Senator Segal is one of the few Conservatives that I have any respect for.  He’s old enough to remember what the Senate is supposed to be and unlike his Harper Party cohorts, he has the chutzpah to stand up for what’s right.  At least when he talks, I know it’s what he wants to say, and not what someone in the PMO handed him. 

I may not agree with his politics, but I can still respect the man.

Kind of nice for a change.

Laters, BC

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Stephen Harper and the Courts (On Our Dime)

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it certainly seems like our government spends an awful lot of time in the courts of this country, doesn’t it?

Even as I write this, it appears that our Harper Party Government is bracing for yet another lawsuit.  This time it is the people who were getting prescription heroin to treat their addiction. 

Just the other day, it seems Rona Ambrose got all wound up about this and decided that this should not happen.  These people are addicts and they are seeking treatment to control and hopefully overcome their addiction.  Rona’s decision is forcing these people to go to court if they want to continue their treatments, and it appears that they are going to.

Now some of these cases have merit, the assisted suicide laws, the abortion laws and others have been challenged through the years.  If someone or some group feel that a law is bad and needs to be amended or removed from the books, a court challenge is often the only tool available.

But it seems to me like the current crop in Ottawa go out of their way to get into the court cases when some talk and thought might avoid the whole thing. 

The Harper Government fought the Veterans over whether or not the Vets should be able to sue for the right to sue the government over changes made to their pensions.  The Harper Government is planning to challenge their loss to the Veterans in a higher court.  Why?  Because they can, I guess.

Again, had they sat down with the various Veteran Groups and individuals or even bothered to send out a questionnaire to find out what the Vets thought, these changes might never have happened.  But that would involve listening, something the Harper Party is not noted for.

Last week a Judge handed down a ruling in the Audrey Tobias case.  The Judge acquitted Audrey of the charges of failing to comply in a Census.  I’ll applaud the Judge for putting on his thinking cap and figuring out a way to tap dance through the minefield that this case provided without telling us that it was OK to just say that I don’t want to fill out the Census because of the links to Lockheed Martin and the military industry.

This is an example of how bureaucrats work, there are rules, the rule was broken, steps will be taken… but surely there was some noise that got up to the Ministers in charge of the Ministries involved.  Wouldn’t one of them say that it is insane to take an 89 year young woman to court over this?


But that’s not the worst of it.  When our elected people get into trouble, like Christian Paradis did, why are we paying for their defence?

You might remember the tomfoolery surrounding the “unrelease” of a response to an Access to Information request.  So far we’ve paid close to $500,000.00 for the defence of these actions... to private law firms!

It’s not good enough that they spend our hard earned money on having a squad of lawyers available for the government, but they can ding us on top of that if they think there is a conflict of interest with the in-house legal eagles.  If Christian and his people don’t want the services of the government lawyers, maybe they should be ponying up the cash to pay for outside legal help.

I’ll tell you what, Christian.  If you and yours had bothered to employ the 3 lbs of fat that sits on top of your shoulders, you wouldn’t be in the jam that you are in and I wouldn’t be paying for your furshlugginer legal fees!

 We paid for Stephen Harper to go to the Supreme Court to get an opinion on his plans for the Senate, and we’re going to pay for the court challenge over his appointee to the Supreme Court.

In the West, the members of the Canadian Wheat Board are in the process of trying to sue the government over the closure of the CWB.  The latest one involves the organization Friends of the CWB and they are asking for $17 Billion in payment or the reopening of the CWB.  They say the farmers built up the CWB and the government has to pay if they take it away.  Guess what, if they win their case, we get to pay that too!

I swear it looks like we are governed by a group of Kindergarteners.  Facts don’t matter if they think they’re right,  “Cause I said so” is a valid reason, the threat of punishment is enough to keep people from breaking the rules, and the scariest thing you can say to someone is “I’ll sue you!”

On the other hand, kindergarteners are usually more forgiving and less prone to holding grudges.  This puts them head and shoulders above the Harper Party, doesn’t it?

Cheers! BC