Will Mike Duffy trial +2 +10 just add momentum to new orange wave in Canadian federal politics ?

Jun 1st, 2015 | By | Category: In Brief

Mike Duffy arrives at courthouse for trial in Ottawa, Monday, April 20, 2015. SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS.

GANATSEKWYAGON, ONTARIO. MONDAY, JUNE 1, 2015. 1:20 AM ET. The trial of suspended Canadian Senator Mike Duffy resumes today in Ottawa, some four and a half months before the much anticipated Canadian federal election of 2015.

Mr. Duffy faces 28 charges involving fraud and breach of trust in various claimed expenses as a Senator, and a further three charges that “relate to Duffy’s acceptance of a cheque from Nigel Wright” (Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “thirteenth Chief of Staff … from September 2010 to May 2013” and  “a Managing Director in the London office of Onex Corporation”).

Reviewing what you get when you plug “Senate of Canada” into Google News at this juncture really does make you wonder.

Just what does the Great Spirit of Canada have in store for we the people of the great northern confederation – and at least one of the archaic colonial political institutions bequeathed to us by the British empire, and the Westminster Conservative government of Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, at the end of the American Civil War ??

(1)  Jennifer Ditchburn’s Canadian Press report on the subject enjoys the non-partisan distinction of appearing on the websites of both CTV News (“As Mike Duffy’s trial returns, Senate bracing for AG report”) and the Toronto Star (“Duffy trial continues as Senate braces for auditor general’s report”).

Troubled Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau once advised CP reporter Jennifer Ditchburn to “Change the D to a B in your last name.” She replied : “Many a person has made fun of my name and (the) word ‘Bitch.’ But never a Canadian senator. That’s a first.”

Ms Ditchburn notes that as the trial resumes the “Senate is simultaneously bracing for the release of the auditor general’s report on the expenses of all senators. Former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie has been named as an arbitrator for MPs identified as having questionable claims.”

Ms. Ditchburn also reports that “prosecutors won’t wrap up their case” within the next three weeks still “allotted to the trial.” And “that makes it unlikely that key witness Nigel Wright –  the prime minister’s former chief of staff – will appear in June.”

The court is similarly “expected to learn soon whether arrangements have been made to have the trial extend into the summer months, where it could end up overlapping with the federal election campaign.”

(2) Meanwhile, some are asking why Ontario Conservative MP Michael Chong’s private member’s bill on parliamentary reform – which passed 260 votes to 17 in the democratically elected Canadian House of Commons – now appears stuck in the unelected Senate of Canada, perhaps forever? (See, eg : “John Ivison: Senate needs to pass Reform Act – now.”)

Backbench Conservative MP Michael Chong introduces his “lowly private member’s bill” on parliamentary reform in Canada. The party leaders voted for this in the House, but many feel their hearts weren’t in it. And they won’t be too upset if it languishes in the Senate for quite a while.

At the same time, Conservative Senator Don Plett has clarified on CTV’s Question Period that   “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not ordered the Red Chamber to shut down Tory MP Michael Chong’s controversial Reform Act … Plett rejected any suggestions that Harper has ordered Conservative senators to quash the bill … ‘Absolutely not,’ said Plett. ‘I haven’t discussed this bill with the prime minister.’”

Senator Plett “spent seven years as the Conservative Party president,”advocating for ordinary party members who are not Members of Parliament. Like others, he objects to a section of Chong’s reform bill that “would allow 20 per cent of MPs in a party caucus to trigger a leadership review vote,” after which “a majority of MPs could then vote to replace the leader with an interim leader.”

Senator Plett believes that choosing a party leader is an exclusive right of party members everywhere, and not just the party’s caucus of elected MPs. (See “Tory senator insists PM hasn’t asked Senate to stall Reform Act.”)

(3) Others have only hoped that the Senate might actually do for the Harper government’s anti-terror Bill C-51 what some say it is doing for the Chong private member’s reform bill. Ie, at least stall it until after this fall’s federal election.

Stephen Harper and Conservative Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen before start of a royal assent ceremony in the Senate chamber in Ottawa, December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie.

But this now seems beside the point. See, eg, “Bill C-51: ‘No prosperity without security,’ Steven Blaney says …  Senate’s national security committee hears four hours of testimony on controversial bill.”

As Daniel LeBlanc has also explained in the Globe and Mail : “A Senate committee is offering to conduct a review of Canada’s new anti-terrorism powers five years after Parliament adopts Bill C-51, and is calling on the government to quickly adopt new measures to fight terrorism and improve its existing counterterrorism operations … The committee on national security and defence has voted in favour of the legislation, but it is also calling on the government to consider the advice of some of the bill’s critics …  The bill will now head for third reading in the Senate.”

A few further notes from Mr. LeBlanc are interesting as well : “The Senate committee on national security and defence was convinced by a recent appearance from Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney that some of the concerns raised by witnesses at the committee would be addressed by the government …  In a statement, Mr. Blaney thanked the committee for its contribution to the legislative process, promising that the government ‘will thoroughly examine’ its observations.”

Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau were among the senators featured on trading cards handed out by the federal NDP in 2013.

(4) Meanwhile, see : “Senate report on bee health finds neonicotinoids harmful but wants more study …  Report outlines nine recommendations to help curb bee colony deaths” ; and “Senate calls for faster action on bee health …  A Senate committee is urging Canadian regulators to release their latest findings on a controversial group of pesticides affecting bees as soon as possible.”

(5) See also : “US author tells Canada’s senate the national food guide is failing us … The American author of an investigative book about saturated fats told a Canadian senate committee Thursday the country’s nutritional guidelines are failing citizens, making them obese and diabetic.” Sober second thought in action, right?

(6) Finally, in “Tories, Liberals face political peril in exploding Senate scandal,” the Sun Media Parliamentary Bureau Chief David Akin has suggested that Auditor General Michael Ferguson will soon “finger as many as 10 more senators as candidates for an RCMP investigation.”

David Akin, Parliamentary Bureau Chief for Sun Media : “The Hill Times named Akin as one of the 100 most influential people on Parliament Hill. A Montrealer by birth, Akin studied history at the University of Guelph. He lives near Ottawa with his wife and two children.”

Akin goes on : “Ferguson has spent a colossal sum – $21 million! – to have an army of auditors comb through every travel, food, and housing claim made by just about any senator who sat in the red chamber from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2013. If you’re a fan of the Senate – and most Canadians are not – his findings will not be pretty …”

The growing crux of things, Akin urges, is that : “by the end of the week, Canadians will have one senator – Duffy – already in front of a judge, another former senator about to go on trial, active RCMP investigations into two other senators and a pile of new allegations against another 10 … This is the point at which, I suspect, Canadians throw up their hands and conclude that we need a change in Ottawa. Any change …”

Thomas Mulcair stands up for NDP motion to start process of abolishing Senate, March 2013. It was defeated by the Conservatives (and Liberals) in a 186—101 vote.

And this is starting to sound, according to Akin , a lot like what happened with Rachel Notley and the Alberta New Democrats back on May 5. In fact : “The Senate scandal now involves and will likely involve politicians who sat in Harper’s caucus and some who sat in the caucus of Justin Trudeau and other Liberal leaders. None have ever sat in Thomas Mulcair’s NDP caucus.”

And : “If Canadians are disgusted by what they will see in the Senate expense scandal next week, expect Mulcair to be loudly and often making the case that he, like Notley, can be Canada’s agent of change.”

Meanwhile, we the Canadian people are still stuck with an increasingly dysfunctional Senate modelled on the 19th century British House of Lords. But if we do actually follow Alberta’s lead and elect a New Democrat federal government this fall, it will at least be committed to getting rid of the dysfunctional Senate as soon as possible.

What if Mike Duffy is finally the guy who makes an NDP federal government in Canada possible, at last (along with Rachel Notley)?

Of course my colleague Dr. Randall White and many other Canadians believe that what we really and increasingly desperately need in Canada is not Senate abolition but serious Senate reform, at last. Many of them, however, would probably also agree that even abolition is better than what we have now!

And, besides, the smallest provinces will probably force reform rather than abolition in the very end anyway? Whatever, a New Democrat federal government elected on the back of the Senate reform issue could be very interesting, to say the very least. Here’s hoping David Akin is right! In the interests of making both Canada and Canadian political science less boring, at the very least again.

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