A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rules and Conventions, Lies and Punishment

I will not dwell in great length upon the ongoing soap opera that is the 'Senate Scandal', there is quite enough commentary out there without my adding to it. I will instead examine how and why such thing are even possible in a 'democracy' and I contend that it is, at least in part because the 'rules' are not clear, documented for all to see, and that no clear penalties exist for those ignoring the rules and conventions that do exist.

Be it what does or does not constitute a legitimate expense for a senator, or an MP for that matter, and whether partisan content in a speech makes the travel to that event non-elegable as an expense, or if a governments advertising promoting itself and giving little real other information is acceptable on the taxpayers dime, the 'rules' are unclear. There is little or no oversight, there are no set penalties for abusing the system or even a way, in a majority government situation, of bringing the government, the senate or the prime minister to account other than in the court of public opinion.

It may well be that the senate can remove appointed members from their seat but it is pretty clear that as it is now proceeding it is far from an independent and equitable process. I have no great love of the conservative senators currently under examination but it is pretty clear that both their appointment and the attempt to fire them is a purely political decision and has little to do with the real job of senators to closely examine and recommend changes to proposed legislation. In this instance Ms Wallin is correct when she saysThe Government has truly put the cart before the horse – the sentencing before the trial – and that is why it would be both unfair and troubling if his motion proceeds.
If it does, each and every one of you will seriously have to consider whether this is a place of sober second thought, or a place where anyone who enters must blindly follow a political master’s dictates. ” That is not to say that that is not what she and most other conservative senators have not been doing for years and continue to do as we speak. It is not even about unacceptable expenses, which there is not much doubt did occur, it is about were the rules clear from the start, were these senators encouraged to bend the rules or told (by the PMO or Senate Leaders) that everything was OK. If not why did not those responsible for signing off on these expenses pass them through for payment without question, or were they too blindly following a political master’s dictates.

Which brings us to the lies part of the equation, it has become standard practice to deny any wrong doing whether it has in fact occurred or not. This is hardly a new phenomenon in political circles “plausible deny-ability' is a fixture in government across the world but our current regime seems to have brought it to new heights, along with the old adage that 'if you say it often enough it becomes true'. It used to be that if the principals involved destroyed any paper trail the matter became a he said she said debate which could be sloughed off in most cases. With the advent of email and electronic communications it is much harder to 'destroy all evidence' and even the most powerful may not be able to wriggle out from under. It remains to be seen just how much off the 'evidence' in the current scandal will come into the public purview, we have hardly been overwhelmed with such documents in the robocalls election fraud case or any of the other Harper regime messes and spending fiasco’s. We can only hope Duffy, who says this current scandal goes all the way to the top, and others fight dirty and shows their hands to the press, the RCMP obviously cannot and will not release documents in an ongoing investigation.

To sum it up, there are few rules governing the actions and spending habits of either our politicians or governments, there are few penalties for those who break or ignore the rules that do exist, and there is little the opposition or general public can do to stop such abuse except to wait for the next election and try and elect honest and principled representatives. And that is increasingly becoming an oxymoron!
We are reliant upon the MP's, The Prime Minister and his cabinet, and the Officers of Parliament to have due regard for our Parliament traditions and unwritten rules of conduct, unfortunately such reliance upon these individuals to respect out democracy no longer is sufficient. The only good thing about the current Senator Expense Soap Opera, about what in the scheme of thing is a piddling amount of money – probably less than the daily budget for Harper's self promoting ads, is that it may signal the start of some parliamentary reform. But NOT under this government if you want to retain some semblance of democracy, and not without Provincial approval it would seem.

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1 comment:

Owen Gray said...

You're right. The rules are not clear. But, frankly, the Harperites has no real incentive to clarify them. As it stands now, they can define what the rules are and change them to fit their own convenience.

Despite all the huffing and puffing, don't look for a change from these people.