Thursday, May 16, 2013

Caught with your hand in the cookie jar, EH?

           Senate rules allow senators to claim up to $22,000 per annum to maintain a secondary residence near to parliament in the Ottawa area. Conservative senator Mike Duffy and two other senators (one a Liberal) are in hot water in claiming the allowance while actually residing in Ottawa (and not in their claimed primary residence in their home province). The Duffy saga has indeed taken some weird twists in the last few weeks. Senator Duffy offered to pay back the $90,000 he owes the taxpapers, claiming ignorance of the rules on his part. It now turns out that Nigel Wright, PM Steven Harper's chief of staff payed the re-imbursement out of his own pocket, raising some fundamental questions of ethics in high places.

          From the pen of our favorite conservative journalist, Andrew Coyne. When your own best people start crying foul, you know there's got to be a problem.

          Coyne, I think, rightly analyzes the ethical problems raised by the Duffy affair. Was the Duffy bailout by Nigel Wright a loan? Then it should have been registered as an asset by Mr Wright. Was it a gift? If so, then under Senate rules, Duffy should not have accepted it. Either way the action was, as Coyne argues, stunningly stupid. (Or, are the players so assured of the passive compliance - or stupidity - of the public, they feel themselves immune: "little gods of the earth"?)

          Once again, it seems we are faced with the essential truth of the old adage: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Harperites were elected on a platform of Law and Order, responsible government and transparency. We've got Law and Order with the incessant tightening of regulations concerning immigrants, refugee claimants and unemployment benefits (most of these changes rendering the laws less accomodating or even mean-spirited). But where have the responsible government and transparency gone? Are the senators who claim expenses they are not entitled to behaving responsibly? Is the government being transparent in its release of information to the public? The very fact that Harper's right hand man, Mr Wright, bailed Senator Duffy out would have remained a state secret if it had not been leaked to the press. And who is responsible for this leak and why? 

          Under a government elected on a promise of transparent government, the atmosphere in Ottawa appears to some observers even murkier than it was under the Chrétien Liberals.

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