by Tim Harper
If Mike Duffy returns to his Senate seat this week, his arrival will not be heralded with an open landau and rose petals.
But if he marks his arrival with a request for repayment of his salary while he was under suspension, his Senate colleagues have two choices.
They can do the right thing and pay him back.
Or they can embarrass themselves again.
Yes, many Canadians will find the prospect of Duffy asking for a big fat cheque odious. In the court of public opinion, he is still seen as the king of feathered beds and padded expenses, but this is not about the man, it is about a principle.
Our Senate has had any number of low points in recent memory, but the 2013 circus that led to the suspension of Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, and Pamela Wallin was a gully of historic proportion.
Before we rush to judgment over a case of rushing to judgment, it is worth noting that Duffy has not even confirmed he will take back his office this week, although it is a safe bet he will at some point.
He has not argued for a return of his pay, although his lawyer Donald Bayne has set the stage for such a case, saying he would definitely seek to recoup two years’ salary if he was in the senator’s shoes.
But we don’t know whether Duffy is content to have won in the court (if not necessarily the court of public opinion), or whether his health or spirit is up for another fight, because this could mean a return to court.
It’s not known whether he would seek to rejoin the Conservative caucus and it is likely it wouldn’t have him back. But on CTV’s Question Period Sunday, Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, the chair of the internal economy committee, made it clear that there would be “no appetite” to revisit the suspension and contemplate reimbursement in the Senate.
Bayne has argued that political figures should be given due process and Duffy was given that due process when Judge Charles Vaillancourt dismissed 31 criminal charges against him.
“It ought to cause those who rushed to judgment, acted like a political herd in the Senate, to the great discredit of the Senate, (to) give real second thought in how they behaved in this,” he said.
The Senate will argue it is the master of its own house and it sets its own rules – though Vaillancourt often searched in vain for such rules and oversight.
It maintains it had the right to impose its own discipline and that expense abuse that falls short of criminality is expense abuse regardless.
Looking back to October 2013, the haste to rid itself of the trio was described this way in this column: “For three days, a chamber that bills itself as the home of sober second thought stumbled along like a drunk brandishing a knife, seemingly intent on a public execution that ignores every Canadian tradition of due process or rule of law.”
It was not unanimous. Former senator Hugh Segal argued the tougher the penalty, the greater the need for due process. “Due process is not a speech made under duress in a star chamber,” he said.
Conservative Sen. Don Plett said the move to suspend was political and he believed in due process.
This is not a bid to canonize Duffy. The Senate has tightened its spending rules, everything from requirements that residency be proved annually to requiring receipts for cab fares under $30, but Duffy is no poster boy for reform.
He raised so many red flags, the Senate had no choice but to try to clean house and the government leader of the day, Marjorie LeBreton, referred the matter to auditor general Michael Ferguson who found more than $1 million in questionable expenses.
That was reduced under a review by retired Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie and, while every sitting senator has reimbursed the public purse, the Senate has gone to the courts to recover some $500,000 from retired senators.
Duffy returns to a more independent place. Some have come to that status by choice. Liberals were sent there by dictate from their leader. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed the first waves of so-called “independent” senators, including a government representative in Peter
The Senate would like to turn the page on this debacle.
But the book is not finished until the lack of due process is at least officially acknowledged, whether pay is reimbursed or not.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services