Canadian Senator Mike Duffy was acquitted in April 2016 of 31 criminal charges that included breach of trust, fraud and bribery. These charges were laid following an investigation of his senate expense account. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made known his interest in senate reform in 2005 and instead of acting upon his stated desire to make the upper chamber members earn their seats through an election, Harper used the senate as many previous prime ministers have – to gain political advantage through the appointment of party faithful. Utilizing this policy to consolidate the Conservative Party’s hold on power, led to the appointment by Harper of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau to the senate.
An investigation of the expense claims by senators began in 2012, focusing on travel expenses and submitted living expenses for senators claiming that their primary residence was not in Ottawa. The investigation resulted in charges being laid against Conservative Senators Duffy, Brazeau and Liberal Senator Mac Harb, with Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin not being charged by the RCMP even though she repaid over $150,000 in questionable expenses.
The senate scandal helped to reinforce the Canadian public’s perception of politicians as being self centered, lacking moral values and taking advantage of any and all opportunities for personal gain. The ongoing trial and spotlight on behind the scenes political maneuvers undoubtedly played a part in the defeat of the Conservative government of Stephen Harper by the Liberals in the October 2015 federal election.
Upon the acquittal of Duffy, charges against Brazeau and Harb were dropped. In the run up to the election, Justin Trudeau, leader of the federal Liberal Party, stated that “partisanship and patronage need to be eliminated from the senate.” With the acquittal of Duffy by Justice Vaillancourt, it is now up to Trudeau and his Liberal government to prove to the Canadian people that perceived wrongdoing by Senators will not be allowed to continue.
Will the new senate operating rules help to build public confidence and trust of politicians? Don’t count on it.