Column: Progressive Views – Senate Follies

Tristan cropBy Tristan Turner

Surprise; the Senate has once again proven to be an antiquated wasteful institution plagued with a plethora of particularly scandalous Senators.

On Tuesday, August 13th, the private auditing firm Deloitte released to the media its 95-page expense audit on the embattled Saskatchewan Senator and former “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” host, Pamela Wallin. Deloitte found $120,000 worth of questionable claimed expenses that the firm judged was not related in any way to Wallin’s duties as Senator.

The report further found that the documents sent to Deloitte for the purposes of the audit were altered by Wallin’s office in multiple cases. There were many instances where Wallin redacted or replaced crucial details that were potentially toxic to her Senate position. In one example, Deloitte reported that Wallin removed the sentence “4 riding fundraiser.” from a note on Wallin’s digital calendar regarding an expense claim her office made for a Conservative Party fundraiser she attended in Saskatchewan.

As expected, Pamela Wallin responded to this audit in the media. In retort, Wallin and her office claimed that in its audit, Deloitte applied modern Senate expense rules to the entire duration of her time in office. However, Deloitte claims that the rules haven’t changed much since Wallin first took office in 2009; “the overall principles of the policy did not change, i.e., the travel costs would be reimbursed if the purpose of the travel was to carry out the senator’s parliamentary functions,” said Deloitte, one of Canada’s leading professional auditing services firms.

Perhaps more interestingly, Deloitte also found that Wallin spent 35 per cent of her time from 2009 to 2012 in Toronto where she owns a home, and 27 per cent in Saskatchewan where she represents in the Canadian Senate.

It is clear that there was foul play involved here, and it is unfortunate that Wallin used her airtime on Tuesday to attack Deloitte and question their report rather than simply respond to her transgressions.

With the release of this report and countless scandals like it everyday it becomes clearer to me, and most Canadians, that the Senate is an institution that no longer serves a purpose – other than as a place to store out-of-touch and nihilistic party insiders.

Yet, Stephen Harper still rises to defend the Senators he appointed – such as Pamela Wallin – again and again. Recently in question period, the Prime Minister offered his support to Wallin and claimed that her expenses were acceptable and represented her “substantial” travel costs from Saskatchewan – where she ‘lives’ – to her gig in Ottawa. Mr. Harper made these inaccurate statements even though Deloitte found that Wallin had inappropriately used public funds to travel for purposes that were not in any way related to her role as a Senator.

If these precarious scandals persist, supporters of the unpopular Red Chamber, including Harper and Trudeau, will take a blow in the fast-approaching 2015 election.

On this issue, New Democrats have an enormous opportunity to gain traction and support. They’re the only major party that has strongly stood in favour of Senate Abolition – even before it was cool.

In fact in a fundraising newsletter released the same day as the Deloitte audit, the NDP stated; “it’s time to abolish the unelected, unaccountable Senate. Period. Full stop.”

If New Democrats are able to get that language out in the media they may be able to tip public opinion in their favour in time for the next election.

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