Saving the chamber of sober second thought

Image of Canadian Senate chamber The English language contains numerous peculiar and inconsequential oddities worthy, at least, of consideration by mundane trivia buffs. Did you know, for instance, that the words "listen" and "silent" use exactly the same letters? Is it sheer coincidence that the words "race car" spelled backwards, still spells the word "race car"? And did you know that "eat" is the only word which, if you take its first letter and move it to the end, spells its past tense "ate"? I think what's most interesting though, is that if you rearrange the letters in "Senators Duffy, Brazeau, Harb and Wallin," and you add just a few more letters, it spells "A gaggle of ass-kissing suck-weasels, appointed by self-serving fuckwits, so entrenched in a culture of entitlement so as to render the entire lot of ne'er-do-wells beyond redemption." When I consider that the Senate expense scandal has already cost taxpayers more than I will likely earn in the next decade (and that's if I win the lottery), it's enough to make me blow chunks. I shudder to think how much the final bill will be, although it's not much of a stretch to envision that it will likely surpass, one-thousand fold, what I might earn before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

The Canadian Senate, often dubbed the chamber of sober second thought by political pundits, has come under scrutiny recently as a number of its less-honorable members have come under fire amidst allegations of questionable expense claims. I must concede that if a chamber of sober second thought is a requisite component of Canada's political system, then it must logically follow that the House of Commons (from which legislation is derived) must be the chamber of drunken knee-jerk reactionism. Rationalizing the Senate's existence as a necessary safeguard is, in this sense, an acknowledgement of our legislator's incompetence. And, ironically, once we acknowledge that our legislators are incompetent twits, doesn't it call into question their ability to appoint conscientious overseers?

According to a Globe and Mail article, the gendarmes have three caballeros (Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb) under investigation to determine if criminal charges are warranted. The Senate's Internal Economy Committee ordered Brazeau, already on a forced leave of absence pending the outcome of other criminal charges, "to repay $48,744 and have any claims of reimbursement be overseen for at least a year". Mike Duffy, who was into taxpayers for a mere $90,000, asserts that it's a 'lack of clarity' in the Senate's rules and definitions with regard to residency and housing allowances. Denouncing any skullduggery on his part, Duffy asserted that the independent audit undertaken by Deloitte which reviewed his expense claims concluded that only a single claim totaling $1050.60 was in error. Nonetheless, proclaimed the Puffster, "repaying the $90 thousand was the right thing to do". Only the casual observer will note the sarcasm in my voice when I say "Way to go Puff... you're a real champ!" As a taxpayer, if Brazeau and Puffy's magnanimous accounting skills leave me feeling like my wallet's been perv-groped, then Mac Harb's $231,649 modest oversights leave me with claw marks on my arse and a swollen prostate. The fact that the government has had to claw back a portion of his $135,000 annual salary as a means of recouping the monies owed the taxpayer is testament to the culture of entitlement which imbrues our political system. "Poor Mac Harb.... looks like he'll have to get used to the taste of domestic."

Image of pigs Inasmuch as the expression might sound like an annoying 1970's Ronco commercial, it's just too precious not to use in this context: "But wait... that's not all...". An external audit is currently examining the travel expenses of Pamela Wallin, another one of Stephen Harper's upstanding Senate appointees. Though the audit is not yet complete, and the results will not be available until later this summer, it has been reported that Deloitte, the external firm examining the Wallin file, is reviewing an estimated $321,000 in questionable travel expense claims. In a recent interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge, Pamela Wallin, defending the discrepancies, offered: "I do everything whole hog. I kind of throw myself into it. And what I didn't do was mind the shop properly. There's a lot of paperwork particularly in government, every time you move, every time you go anywhere. Sort of more paperwork than is humanly possible to keep on top of. So I made mistakes." I can't help but wonder why Mansbridge didn't follow her assessment with "Whole hog Pam? Doesn't that pretty much sum up the public's view that you've been vigorously suckling on the public's teat?"

"But wait... that's not all..." No scandal would be complete without partisan finger pointing and political opportunism drawing attention away from the obvious: when you leave the keys to the liquor cabinet easily accessible, the kids are going to get into the booze. Tom Mulcair and the Trotskyites have taken a bold stance with respect to the red chamber. "Roll up the red carpet", proclaim the NDP on their online petition, "It's time to abolish the Senate!" In my view, the abolition of the Senate is not only desirable and fiscally responsible but, in light of the recent Senate debacle, it also quite likely reflects the sentiments of the average Canadian taxpayer. Of course what may be beneficial or desirable to Canadian taxpayers may be irrelevant; its abolition is highly unlikely, many academics assert, since it would require a Constitutional amendment. I'd wager half my stuffed armadillo collection and two bottles of Wild Turkey that the odds of finding rolling papers and a big bag of weed in a convent are greater than they are that the Provincial legislatures and Canadian Parliament would agree to nuke the Senate. Anyone actually willing to take that wager need only consider that the consent of Parliament to abolish the Senate includes the approval of the Senate itself and, ironically, 102 Senators willing to vote themselves out of a job.

Not to be outmanoeuvred by the lefter of the left parties, nor allowing fear or common sense to influence his resolve, Justin & the Electric Bleeding Hearts (gawds that sounds like a horrid '80's pop band) are pushing for Senate reform. Of course the precise details of their reform plan have yet to be announced but I can only imagine the twisted logic that will be used to argue that if you quadruple a Senator's salary, they'll be only half as likely to make off with the Oreos from the cookie jar. The least surprising position is that maintained by Teflon Steve and the supposiTories; one of recalcitrance as the Conservatives duck and weave in an effort to avoid the impending shitstorm that's going to be unleashed when the gendarmes finish their criminal investigation.

It would be short-sighted to offer criticism without, at least, suggesting a remedy. As it happens, I have a modest solution to the Senate problem. Simply use a similar process to appoint Senators as is used by the justice system in jury selection and reward them just as handsomely: forty bucks a day. Surely if a dozen honourable citizens can be relied upon to understand the vagaries of legal minutia and, after so deliberating, reach a rational verdict, then shanghaiing 102 similarly honorable citizens to serve as Senators to review the laws as enacted by Parliament should be no less daunting a task. The whole lot could be housed and fed in a non-sequestered University-style residence and shipped home twice a year. Such a system would remove patronage, eliminate systemic opportunities for abuse and ensure a predictable fixed-cost for the maintenance of the institution. No need to abolish the Senate; the adoption of such a system would likely see the current lot of nobles fleeing like rats off a sinking ship.

For the foreseeable future, little change is likely in the cards so taxpayers are probably best advised to stock up on petroleum jelly.

Submitted by Norm de Plume, 30 June 2013