Sunday, May 19, 2013

On corrupted institutions

Plenty of others have had loads to say about the scandal surrounding Stephen Harper, Nigel Wright, Mike Duffy and the Senate generally - with Wright's resignation today serving as just the latest chapter of a story with plenty left to be told. But I'll add a couple of notes to the mix.

First, I'm not sure some commentators (especially those thinking that "the cheque" is the real story) have noticed the significance of this juxtaposition of events:
A senior government official told Postmedia News on Thursday that Wright wrote a cheque to Duffy’s lawyer “in trust.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the sole stipulation for giving the money was “that it would be used to pay back taxpayers” and putting it in trust “was the best way to achieve this.”

However, Duffy also took out a loan from Royal Bank to cover the cost of repaying his Senate expenses, according to a Senate source with knowledge of the financial arrangement. On Wednesday, Duffy told CTV in an email that he dealt with the bank alone and Wright was not involved in that transaction.
Now, to the extent that account is accurate, we can draw a couple of conclusions. First, the issue was seen as a formal one requiring the use of Duffy's lawyer rather than a personal cheque - as might be expected if the "just helping a friend" storyline were to hold up. And second, it means that there's a paper trail consisting not only of the cheque, but also of some sort of trust conditions placed on the payment of the money to Duffy's lawyer - and I wouldn't use the "sole stipulation" wording in the Cons' spin to rule out the possibility of another agreement beyond the trust conditions themselves. 

And what about the content of that agreement? Well, that's where the open question of Wright's ability to ensure a whitewash of the Senate's audit of Duffy's expenses come into play.

In effect, no one Senate leader would seem to have had the ability to guarantee the outcome of a report from the internal economy committee. Instead, Wright's payment seems to have been predicated on the assurance that a majority of that committee would take orders, rather than even questioning whether the Prime Minister's Office should be able to dictate the terms of the Senate's own proceedings.

Of course, that utterly warped sense of loyalty to Harper is far from new for his appointed senators. But it absolutely goes to the core of the Senate as an institution.

If an operator from the PMO can make - and keep - promises as to what Senate committee members will decide in policing their own members, then there's absolutely no credible argument to be made that the upper chamber is even pretending to function as an independent body. And so, abolish, abolish, abolish.


  1. Anonymous1:31 p.m.

    No, prosecute, prosecute, prosecute. The Senate itself is not the problem. The stacking of it with people who are willing to defraud the public is the problem. The coverup of the fraud is the problem. We see election fraud, accounting fraud, parliamentary mis-conduct. Elections, accounting, the senate and parliament are the victims here.

    1. The problem is that some institutions positively reward that kind of behaviour - and the Senate, featuring lifetime, publicly-funded appointments at the whim of the executive with little formal discipline (and that small check completely taken over by a domineering PMO) could hardly offer a better example.

    2. Very good point. Covering up fraud is this gov't.s' specialty. Or was. No sense throwing out the baby AND the bathwater.
      Keep the Senate and appoint (or elect) better people, because it's abundantly clear how badly "sober second thought" is needed in Canada today.

  2. Greg, I have had it confirmed that the RBC loan was approved and in place first. The decision to bring it "in house" through Wright and the PMO wasn't Duffy's. I'm told that it probably wasn't Wright's either.

    The theory I'm hearing is that there's something of a civil war underway in the Tory senate caucus. The in house payment was part of an effort to throw a blanket over the unrest and choke it out.

    The old guard, so the report goes, are the former Progressive Conservatives, who are incensed at the meteoric rise of Harper's hand-picked new guard and resent being relegated to inferior standing.

    The key, apparently, rests with the identity of the sources feeding Bob Fife a steady stream of e-mails, documents and information, the stuff that has brought down Duffy, Wallin and now Wright.

    1. I haven't heard those details or theories yet, and I'm certainly curious to find out exactly what happened. But again, I'm not sure how it's possible for Harper to have engineered the committee report to suit his purposes without having both of those supposedly competing wings onside.

  3. And, Greg, you know you won't get the Senate abolished without the consent of a requisite majority of the provinces and that isn't about to happen.

    1. Well, that depends in large part on how the parties and the public alike respond to this type of story - a real federal push toward abolition could make it awfully uncomfortable for most premiers to try to defend the Senate. But it's certainly going to be an uphill battle as long as both the Cons and Libs want to protect their existing patronge appointments.

    2. Not east of the Ottawa Valley, Greg, no. There's no way in hell you can get rid of the Senate without Quebec and the Maritimes giving up their preferential deal.

  4. Besides, if Harper's for it, most of us are agin it.

  5. Anonymous5:07 p.m.

    The seeds have already been sown. The Senate WILL be abolished, giving absolute power to one man, and history will once again repeat itself.

    Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.


    1. Anonymous,

      No actual "seeds have been sown". This issue has not even registered with the mass of "average" Canadians (whose fickle whims decide elections & referendums).

      Those CBC Power & Politics "polls" merely sample the opinions of the "1%" - namely, the 1% of Canadians who bother to be engaged in our political system.

      Actually, IMO, "1%" is an over-estimation. Most of the hosts & reporters appearing on such political programs skew Liberal (in their revealed assumptions, conclusions & values). I suspect many New Democrat's & Conservatives avoid such programs - wishing not to engage in sadomasochism. Hence, further limiting & skewing the "sample".

      So what of the remaining 99%? The burden of informing & mobilizing this mass falls on the NDP. As the only significant federal party supporting the abolition of the senate - it would have to bear the costs of the required public information campaign (a campaign that would be challenged by wealthy Liberal & Conservative forces - who cherish the senate).

      Such a thing is not possible while-in opposition, as the NDP must preserve scarce resources for an election campaign. However, upon assuming federal power - the NDP would receive a significant "discount": thanks to the "bully pulpit" & mobilization advantages of government.

      IMO, the senate will only be abolished when it *inevitably* provokes a national crisis by sabotaging federal NDP legislation. If they displayed such hubris...I can envision a chain reaction that would produce enough national discomfort & uproar - that even conservative provinces would seek relief through a blessing of abolition.

      If you wish to have such a seed sown - you will have to hire the right gardener,
      Dan Tan

    2. Anonymous7:32 p.m.

      Assuming that all senators remain loyal to their respective parties, the Conservatives will be able to block any legislative changes until at least 2025, possibly longer. I think that pretty much guarantees it.

    3. Anonymous,

      What do you mean by "guarantees it"?

      That a federal NDP government would be powerless to abolish the senate?

      *If so* (forgive me if I have misinterpreted you)...then you - and many others - are *too* impressed by the senate's comical ability to vote in favour of self-preservation.

      What I hinted at (in my previous post) would not be as simple as mere legislation to abolish the senate. It would be a decisive *campaign* informed by contemporary strategies & precedents (some derived from sources as diverse as the Obama & Harper administrations).

      So let the senator's be "loyal to their respective parties". It would only make the job of finishing them off easier. I would not want a federal NDP government greeted by an agreeable senate. That might promote toleration & co-existence. We should have none of that - with such a filthy & corrupted institution.

      Bring It On,
      Dan Tan

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  7. Anonymous8:03 p.m.

    What I meant was that whether by accident or by design, the perfect storm of anger is brewing, and just as a plane-load of passengers who were born in mid-flight would have no idea what those round things under the fuselage are for, and would vote to discard them, the true purpose of the Senate, which is to prevent a catastrophic failure of the elected House from destroying the country, will not be understood by the majority. The solution is not to get rid of the Senate, but rather to populate it with people of integrity.