Community Editorial Panel
As I followed the Senate fiasco, I couldn’t help but think that the whole mess never had to happen!
When, back in November and December of 2012, it came to light that there were irregularities in the expense claims submitted by Senators Duffy, Harb and Brazeau. Harb repaid the amount in question of $180, 166.17, announced he was retiring, and walked away from any scandal with his Senate pension intact - $122,989.00 per year.
Two months later Duffy repaid, or at least someone repaid, the $90,000 that he had wrongly claimed. On May 9, 2013 the Senate released a report that stated the rules pertaining to Senators making claims were unclear. In February of 2013 Senator Wallin’s expense claims were audited, and that action brought her name into the mix of this scandal.
The details of this matter have been seriously confusing, to the point that hardly any of us mere tax-paying mortals can follow or understand the matter fully. But here’s the thing!
From my perspective, it really didn’t matter if the stories that the senators were telling us were true or not. It didn’t matter that the amounts they were accused of wrongly claiming were right or wrong, or whether they were intentionally stealing from taxpayer, or simply victims of an unclear, ill defined process. None of this needed to get this far except for the fact that Prime Minister Steven Harper jumped into the fray, and turned a procedural ripple into a political tsunami.
Once this story broke, back at the very start, the person in the Senate who is responsible for processing expense claims should have stopped the foolishness by immediately taking responsibility for the problem. There should have been a statement made to the press that would have quickly acknowledged an investigation revealed that a problem with the process of claiming and approving Senator’s expense claims did indeed exist, and that certain Senators had filed incorrect claims based on misinformation they had been given when they first were appointed to the Senate about how to submit claims, and what items were legitimate and which ones were not. The press release should have also stated that the senators involved in making incorrect claims had been interviewed and agreements had been reached that would see full repayment of the wrongful claims. It should also have stated that a more detailed investigation of the expense claim process would see reforms made to that process that would stop the process of claims going directly from the claimant to the cash register without first ever going through a proper scrutiny and approval procedure. From my humble observations, that could well have stopped this fiasco in its tracks.
But that didn’t happen! No siree! Instead of dealing with the questions as I have described above, the Prime Minister allowed himself to get sucked into the fray, and in so doing, turned this issue from a senate housekeeping matter into a political nightmare that should never have involved him in the first place. If he felt he absolutely had to comment on the matter, he should have conferred with the proper Senate people responsible for the approval of expense claims, made sure everyone was on the same page in this story, given the individual Senators the benefit of the doubt because of the unclear procedures around the claiming process, ensured the repayment agreements were in place, and put the whole matter to bed before it ever became the nightmare story it has turned into, simply because he couldn’t help using heavy handed methods to extract punishment from those Senator’s without using the due process of law to achieve his ends. Harper is a bully, and his actions surrounding this file have shown his inability to do the right thing. He has created this monster almost single handedly. He has destroyed careers and reputations indiscriminately, he has openly misled parliament and the people of Canada as he waded through the muck of his own creation, and now he finds himself waist deep in the matter that never should have involved him in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong here! I’m not trying to say that the Senators are innocent. I’m also not saying they are guilty. What I am saying is that none of that really matters. As the Prime Minister stated, it is not the reality but the perception that matters. It’s an odd thing though, that he cannot see the irony in that statement, which could have so easily been managed as a glaring loophole of misunderstanding within the process of making expense claims, instead of turning the whole matter into a political nightmare for all involved, including us, the taxpayers of Canada.
I have always said Harper is nothing more than a back room policy-maker for Preston Manning’s Reform Party. He is a heavy handed, mean-spirited bully in the way he treats people who make glaring mistakes that he perceives may reflect badly on his. This whole story has cost all of us dearly, way more than the total amount of the expense claims in question, to say nothing of the waste of the time and energy of all members of Parliament since this story has taken over the government.
It’s time for a change of government! In 2015 make sure your vote contributes to that change.
Jerry Randall is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel.