Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Go Sens, Go? That's Not the Issue

Yes, yes. It has been a long time. Too long, actually, between posts. To those who read my posts (hopeful voice), I apologize...

That said, nothing like the week that was to rouse one from slumber and encourage a new post. In truth, last week seemed like some political version of "anything you can do I do better" - from the polls first in Labrador and then in British Colombia, to the Senate and then the Office of the Mayor of Toronto, and finally to the PMO. 

Plus we had an earthquake, just for good measure.

While there is so much on which one could comment, let's look at events in Ottawa and the furore developing over the Senate following expense improprieties and the government, ahem, response.

Rather than go into the well-reported details here, I wanted to focus on what this issue is and is not about. Let's start with the latter.

This is not about the Senate. 

While the issue began in the Senate and is focused on the conduct of members of the Senate, the most recent events have made this something beyond the Senate. Yet Canadians are being told the opposite.

The government lines are making every effort to define this as a Senate issue; lines which go so far as to suggest that this is exactly why Canada needs the Senate reform they have long championed (and they suggest would have advanced were it not for the Liberals and the NDP).

Now, had the issue been solely about improper expenses related to residency the government might have been on stronger ground. As well, had the government decided not to make Senator Duffy's "repayment" a partisan issue and hold him up as an example of all that is good, this might have stayed within the walls of a chamber to which so few pay attention.

But events did not play out this way.

So for those using this event as a justification for chanting "Go Sens, go", hold on a moment.  There is more here.


If it is not primarily about the Senate, what is it about? Some observations...

1. It may be about criminality. As Rob Walsh (former Law Clerk of the House of Commons) noted today, the actions of Duffy and Wright may have violated the Criminal Code provisions which relate to Members of Parliament (sec. 119). While it is not clear that this is the case, understanding whether it is is or is not demands more information, not less.  Which leads to observation #2...

2. It is about transparency. Information and transparency are like oxygen for a well-functioning democracy, and in this case they are sorely lacking. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. While it is a truism that all parties are strong advocates for transparency while in opposition and laggards while in government, the current government has taken that maxim to new levels.

If this was purely about Senate reform and the need for change, I suspect the government would be highly transparent. That they are not is telling, which leads to observation #3...

3. It is most definitely about attitude. It is about an aggressive attitude towards any opposition, towards any challenge and towards facts. It was the government's instinct to make a Senate issue a partisan one by trumpeting Senator Duffy's "repayment" that contributed to this mess. By choosing to elevate him, they took an Ottawa issue and made it a national one.

Put another way, by elevating Duffy they set themselves up and are now paying the price.

All governments - Conservative, Liberal, NDP, PQ, you name it - will have an element of "how much do we think we can get away with" in their conduct. There will be obfuscation, deflection and denial. A sense that they can ride it out.

Time in power feeds this sense, as does a fractured opposition (take today's QP as an example of an opposition that failed to really focus its questions and pen the government into the corner in which they were already standing).

But in the end, it is this attitude which ultimately brings down governments. And this is the point which should worry the government.

This issue and, more importantly, their handling of it has lead an increasing number of people - including elements of their base - to see them less as like the champions of change from 2006 and more like just another party. And when you are seen as just another party, the public will quickly realize that there is always someone else to which they can turn.

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