Troughing and what to do about it

The Senate expenses scandal is only important except as it relates to the character of the Prime Minister and the advisability of what he has done to clear it up. The scandal has been caused by the excessive or untimely application of virtue, rather than a persistent slackness of ethics and probity. The righteous puritan in PM Harper vies with the Machiavelli, and this time the puritan’s instincts – his inner Cromwell – brought down the mailed fist, rather than let the situation be cleared up going-forward by tightening rules.

  • Let us concede that Senators Wallin, Duffy and Harb were abusing loose and ill-defined residency rules, which, I may add, have had no bearing on the real functions of senators in a world of electronic communications.
  • The Senate is not under the direct control of the Prime Minister; it is part of the legislative branch of government, and has its own rights and privileges for the management of its affairs. Thus to clean up the senate requires the cooperation of that House.
  • Because the PM chose to clear up the situation retroactively, the errant senators were faced with enormous bills for back-payment of expenses that had been approved and were disallowed retroactively. Whether they ought to have acted as they did is not the issue; they were wrong to abuse the system as much as they did. This left them in an impossible situation.
  • The shenanigans used to transfer money to senator Duffy would not have been necessary if the clean-up had been prospective rather than retroactive.
  • The guilty senators were left with no choice but to cry foul, which they have done.
  • Their proposal, that they are not receiving natural justice from their colleagues, has merit, if it be true that behaviour which had been approved is retroactively deemed a punishable offence.

Compared to the Lucien Rivard, sponsorship, or Canadian Pacific scandals of the past, this one is trivial – except that it appears our Glorious Leader has been caught acting intemperately. There is merit in the comment that this is what you get when too many people have been ruthlessly cast aside. The cumulative bad karma is being paid for. For the man who tries to hide himself as much as he does, who edits his speeches to make them is unmemorable as possible, this must be excruciating.

A great line in the movie Amadeus comes to mind. Through the machinations of  his rival Salieri, Mozart is required to submit his compositions to a panel of Italian composer-judges in order to get a job, which he badly needs.He rails against this decision of the Emperor, saying: “Why should I? I am the best composer in Vienna!” To which the ancient Court Chamberlain quietly admonishes him, fingers steepling: “A little humility, Mozart, might do you well”.

Indeed. Mr. Harper, you might be the best Prime Minister in Canadian history, but a little humility might do you well.