Friday, November 6, 2009

The Taskless Thanks

Yesterday, there was a bit of a rhubarb between New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer and Conservative Senator Mike Duffy on Evan Solomon's new show, Power & Politics. The issue was a report Peter had issued about the cost of the Canadian Senate.

For the clarification of my non-Canadian readers, the Senate of Canada is not so much like the Senate of the United States as like the pre-reform British House of Lords. Senators are "summoned" by the appointed Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. They hold office until the age of 75.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had promised to reform the Senate, and that he would not appoint Senators. (He did allow that he would honour non-binding Senate elections if any province were to conduct one. Only Alberta currently provides for that.) Despite his promise, Prime Minister Harper now holds the record for the most Senate appointments in one calendar year. He has now appointed 28 Senators. One, Bert Brown, was the winner of a non-binding Senate election in Alberta, who Harper appointed in 2007. The rest were appointed in four batches so far this year.

There are 105 seats in the Senate, with two current vacancies in New Brunswick and Newfoundland. Two of Harper's appointees, including Senator Duffy, may have violated the constitutional requirement of being resident in the province they were appointed to represent. Five of his appointees will still be in the Senate (barring resignation, impeachment or death) in 2039. One will not have to leave until 2049. Nice work if you can get it. Truly, it is the taskless thanks.

Now, here's the video of the exchange. I swear, I was worried dear old Duff's head was going to explode.

Here's the interesting thing. The comments on the CBC website were 90% critical of the Senator. Similarly the media commentary. Duff's former friend, Don Martin (no syncophant of the NDP he) was unusually blunt is his condemnation of his erstwhile colleague.

Many senators are decent types trying to make intelligent and constructive contributions to public policy. But Mike Duffy's only value has become that of poster boy for why the Senate needs, at very least, major reform if not outright abolition.
The first politician to rise to Stoffer's defence was an MP of another party.

Peter Stoffer said he would run for Parliament and did. He won, as he has done repeatedly. He acted on his convictions. Mike Duffy railed against the Senate as a place of unelected stooges while a media commentator but then took an unelected appointment to the place the moment it was offered. Of the two, I can guarantee you that Peter Stoffer is not a fake.

Duff defended his travel expenses by comparing them to Stoffer's, which he claimed were similar on an annualized basis. "What's the difference?"

Here is my email to Senator Duffy (cc-ing Peter Stoffer):

Dear Senator Duffy,

On CBC yesterday, you indicated that you couldn't see the difference between your travel claims and those of NDP MP Peter Stoffer, whose claims, on an annualized basis, you suggest are on par with yours.

Now, I'm a bit surprised you can't figure it out. But let me explain it to you.

Last election, 24,290 Canadian citizens voted for Peter Stoffer. That's about 61.5% of the votes cast in Sackville - Eastern Shore.

By contrast, no one voted for you at all.

Now don't get me wrong. Duff. My contempt for the Senate of Canada does not translate into contempt for every Senator. I'm quite fond of Senator Raynell Andreychuk, who has always been very kind to me personally. I've met Senator Michael Meighen and found him to be both amiable and well-informed. My own great-uncle, Earl Hastings, was a Senator for more than 30 years. I always got on well with the late Senator Hazen Argue and am friends with several members of his family. And some of the work of Senate committees has frequently proved a valuable contribution to public debates.

However, none of that changes the fact that there is no place for an all-appointed legislative body in a democracy. The Senate of Canada, as presently constituted, is a festering pustule on the arse-end of Canada's democracy. Those who accept the taskless thanks of a summons to the Senate should be prepared to have their activities scrutinized - particularly the cost of the Senate is increasing at more than three times the rate of the cost of the House of Commons, even though the number of MPs has increased while the number of Senatorial sinecures has remained stable. Whingy temper tantrums on national television by the most junior Senator
from Prince Edward Island do nothing to enhance the credibility of the Red Chamber.

I hope this clears the matter up for you, Senator.

Yours aye,

Malcolm French APR


Country Parson said...

Wow, this is cool. An appointment to the age of 75 with no real responsibility, and apparently you don't even have to be resident in the province you have been called to represent. I'm retired, but I have a few years to go to reach 75 and would love a job that requires little work or attention, and allows plenty of time for travel (some of it paid, first class I presume), with a terrific title "Senator." How can I get in on this? I'd be great. Shoot, I'm not a resident of any province. I'm not even Canadian. Think of how neutral I'd be. And I can promise to do as little as possible from wherever I might be at the time, which would generally be Hawaii in the winter.

Audrey II said...

If Mr. Puffy bothers to respond, you're definitely going to have to post it!