Thanks Mr. Runciman for a job well done!

There is so much one could say about Bob Runciman and all of it would be positive, no matter what your political affiliation.

He would not know me but I watched him for four years during the first Mike Harris mandate from 1995 to 1999 — when I was an EA and Chief of Staff for one of his MPP colleagues. I specifically remember, for example, sitting in the Ontario’s visitors section in the Legislature when he offered to resign his Cabinet Post because there had been an error in a Throne Speech attributed to his staff.

While I have not been able to find that incident on the Internet, it showed how ethical he was and what most of us would think of as a “statesman” — something we rarely see in today’s provincial or federal parliament.

Here is Runciman’s Wikipedia page. It says he was first elected as an MPP in the Ontario Parliament in 1981, representing Leeds in Eastern Ontario. He was briefly on the Frank Miller Cabinet prior to the defeat of the Miller Government as a result of the Bob Rae David Peterson compact.

Then, in June 1995, when the Harris ONPCs were elected with a huge majority, he was initially appointed Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services — where it was reported he did an outstanding job. Runciman held other Ontario Government posts as well but that is the one I remember best.

Seven years ago, on January 29, 2010, when former PM Stephen Harper appointed Runciman as a Senator, many remembered his excellent record in provincial government and cheered that appointment. We hoped, of course, that his appointment and many others like his, would result in an elected Senate — which of course we now know will never become a reality given the way the Trudeau Liberals are running the show.

The crux of the matter is that Bob Runciman is a statesman of high regard and I wish him well in retirement.

Why were Duffy, Wallin & Brazeau only Senators suspended?

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Like so many Canadians, I am fed up with the entitlement attitude and the lack of rules in the Senate regarding travel and residency expenses. And, those lack of rules became apparent on April 21, 2016, when Justice Charles Vaillancourt found Senator Mike Duffy, not only “not guilty,” but “innocent” of 31 charges of defrauding the Senate  — all related to expenses flagged by Auditor General Michael Ferguson in his June 2012 report.

Also related to Duffy’s acquittal, as of this week (May 23, 2016), the Crown has opted not to appeal the Duffy case and not to proceed against Senator Mac Harb. Similarly, the RCMP announced on their website that they have closed the Senate investigation regarding Senator Pamela Wallin. The case against Senator Patrick Brazeau, however, continues as of today’s date.

Let’s review what happened after Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were suspended in November 2013. According to this Wikipedia page, following a full study of Senator expenses in the winter and spring of 2015, AG Ferguson identified 30 senators whose claims he thought were inappropriate. Of those 30, he recommended 9 cases be referred to the RCMP, and 14 be allowed to opt for binding arbitration by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Ian Binnie.

Reality check. If you follow the chronology, there were two very different processes! Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were judged by their fellow Senators and suspended two years earlier for the exact same type of questionable expenses that others, over the 2015/16 period, have quietly repaid or accepted binding arbitration.

The worst of it, however, is that, in spite of the inconsistent treatment of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau, compared to the other Senators who were also found to have questionable expenses, the judging has not stopped.

As I wrote last week, for example, Senator Leo Housakos, Chair of the Senate Internal Economy Committee, wants to re-examine Duffy’s expenses dossier.

Now, fast forward to yesterday. CTV’s Steve Murphy sent out a tweet at 12:41pm: “Does public believe justice has been done in Duffy, Harb, Wallin cases? NS Senator Jim Cowan acknowledges probably not.”

Probably justice was not done? What on Earth can Senator Cowan mean considering that, as this CBC column states, he had to pay back $10,000 in disputed amounts himself.

Talk about hypocrisy!

At this point, the issue is not what is a legitimate Senate expense. The court already proved that it is the Senate’s unclear rules that is the problem. But, rather than admit the problem is within the Senate administration itself, Senators Housakos and Cowan seem to be alleging that it is only in the cases of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau that justice has not been done.

Is that simply because they don’t want to pay back the salary and benefits that those three have lost? If it is, I have no doubt the Senate’s fall session of 2016 is going to get very noisy and controversial.

The crux of the matter is this: No matter what past mistakes were made, all Senators should be treated equally. In 2013 three Senators were suspended without pay and pension benefits. In 2015, 14 Senators were allowed to go to arbitration without penalty. That clearly means that three Senators — Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau — were treated unfairly.

So, to put it bluntly, rather than continue to harass the suspended three, I would recommend Senators Housakos and Cowan put all their energies into making things equal and right.

And, I would also add, that making things right includes making all the Senate rules regarding travel and residency tougher and with accountability mechanisms built in. (Updated May 26th at 10:22am)

Elected Senator Doug Black’s 7-point plan for Senate reform

It is interesting, that according to comments made by elected Senator Doug Black (at the Reform Foundation Symposium in Calgary last week), it might actually be possible to reform the Senate. (H/T MP Pierre Poilievre’s website and fh at Blue Like You.)

In fact, Black seems so sure Senate reform is possible, he outlined a 7-point plan to make it happen. Which is good news worth repeating given the media and opposition meltdown regarding the allegations and noise coming out of that venerable Chamber in recent months.

  1. Improve Accountability by Tightening Residency Requirements: What does primary residency actually mean? While you can’t live in two places at once (unless you are fortunate enough to be an Ontario Senator), should Senators be physically present in the province they represent most of the time they are not sitting in Ottawa? As Black says, “You can’t represent your region if you don’t know it and you can’t know it if you don’t live there.” Without a doubt, if this issue had been clearer, neither Mike Duffy or Patrick Brazeau would have had to be suspended yesterday.

  2. Include external members on Audit Sub-Committee: As is done at the UK’s House of Lords, qualified Canadians who are not Senators or elected MPs should be added to the Senate Audit Committee to ensure that the rules make sense. The reason that seems like a good idea is that Senators may not want to question a colleague but an outsider, on behalf of taxpayers, would have no qualms in doing so.

  3. No Senator convicted of a crime contributes to or receives a Pension: It seems self-evident that no Senator should be able to benefit from a public pension if convicted of a crime. Yet, it appears that is not the case at the moment with former Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne. Recently, former Liberal appointee Mac Harb, while still under an RCMP investigation, resigned so that he could receive his pension, no matter what the outcome of the investigation. That is not right.

  4. Full transparency in defining general Senate business expenses:  As Black says, the expense rules can’t be so restrictive that Senators cannot travel throughout Canada meeting Canadians. But, I believe such restrictions would have helped Pamela Wallin, who was also suspended yesterday. From what she said on her own behalf when she was interviewed by the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, she had the impression that she was a Senator 24/7, therefore, could claim most expenses. If that is not the case, defining what are legitimate general expenses is important.

  5. Full transparency in defining Travel and Hospitality expenses: This point relates to # 4. Again, using Wallin as an example, I heard her explain in her CBC interview, that flying home to Saskatchewan might be via Halifax where she had been invited to speak. So, she’d fly from Ottawa to Halifax, stay over, then from fly from Halifax to Toronto and then onto to Regina. In a round about situation like that, the Senate needs to be clear on what part of a trip like that is she a Senator and what part is she not.

  6. Provide full accessibility in the Chamber with live video: Black’s point of view about accessibility has merit. The House of Commons is televised, why not the Senate? At the very least, why not webcasting? As it is, only those who live in Ottawa have access to watching Senate proceedings. Allowing all Canadians to look in would be helpful in terms of seeing the work they do as important.

  7. Initiate a 2-way dialogue with Canadians: Black is not clear about what he means by 2-way dialogue. But, it is feasible that Senators could go out into schools and community charitable or non-profit organizations to give talks on what they do, such as the Rotary Club. The Senate could also hold open consultations on certain legislation pending passage.

Speaking of a 2-way dialogue, what I would like to know is why these seven points, which reflect good old common sense,  are not Senate procedure now? In my opinion, while most Conservatives agreed that the three Senators should be punished, I am not one of them. While I certainly don’t condone what the suspended Senators allegedly did, and last week might have agreed with suspensions out of anger in a comment or Tweet, if, as we know now, the rules were as unclear as Black seems to suggest, they were treated unfairly — scapegoated as it were. Leaving me to wonder — who’s next?

Anyway, to comment on this 7-point plan readers can leave a comment here or contact Senator Black directly at doug.black@sen.parl.gc.ca.  And, for those who are interested, here are the Senator’s remarks in PDF format.