Monday, May 27, 2013

A Tale of Two Parliaments: A Stench of Arrogance and Greed

Who shall guard the guards?

Our parliament belongs to the citizens, just as the parliament of the UK belongs to British citizens.

And when our representatives in our parliaments forget whom they are serving, the citizens are affronted, and the offenders are held to account.

In The Telegraph we are are reminded about the expenses scandal that engulfed the mother Parliament just on two years ago:

After the original outcry, little has been heard of the expenses scandal, and it is widely assumed that the problem has gone away. It has not. Indeed, there are a number of troubling indications that the culture of impunity, sleaze and greed is stealthily returning to Parliament...
 Perhaps. But this comes ill from a Speaker who ordered £45,000 in refurbishments to his grace-and-favour apartment (while reportedly failing to pay tax on this benefit) and was one of the most notorious expenses cheats to emerge from the Telegraph investigation. Ultimately it is the Speaker, and nobody else, who is responsible for the constant undermining of Ipsa. But for him, the stench of arrogance and greed would not be emerging once again from the Commons. Matters are little better in the Lords, where Tory peer Lord Hanningfield, back from a stint in prison for fraudulent accounting, has claimed £21,000 in expenses despite not speaking in one debate.

The public is entitled to view all this with disgust. Our standard of living is falling, our services are being cut back, the risk of unemployment grows ever greater. But politicians continue to live in a different world, with a separate set of standards.

And in Canada, the Harper government is paying a price in opinion polls for the Senate expenses scandals, as Paul Tuns, author of Jean Chr├ętien: A Legacy of Scandal, writes in the Ottawa Citizen:

There are any number of theories as to why some scandals seem not to affect a government’s popularity, while others seem destined to doom their prospects for re-election. Perhaps a certain level of scandal is tolerated. Or perhaps some types of scandals offend voters more than others.

If Adscam was politically fatal for the Liberals, does the Senate scandal present a similar danger for the Tories?

Adscam involved funnelling money to agencies and individuals with ties to the Liberal Party of Canada from the sponsorship program, which sought to buttress the Canada “brand” in Quebec to counter support for separatism; advertising companies and individuals with ties to the party were paid tens of millions of dollars for little or no work. This type of abuse of taxpayer dollars for partisan gain is easily understood and seems to upset voters more than other forms of corruption, such as an abuse of power.

The Senate scandal could be viewed similarly. It is one thing to claim a housing allowance or travel expense for which one is not qualified, but such venality is quite another thing when the senator is double-dipping, taking money from candidates for partisan activities such as campaigning or fundraising while also being reimbursed through the public purse by claiming official Senate business.

As former high-profile journalists, senators such as Duffy and Wallin had star power when promoting the Conservatives on the campaign hustings or making pitches for donations. Under the Canada Elections Act, senators can engage in such activities, but expenses such as travel and hotel bills, must be paid by the individual campaigns or national party. It appears that in some cases, Duffy was reimbursed by both the campaign and with a Senate per diem.

Who shall guard the guards? It seems that we, the citizens, must guard our guards.

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