Harper should get out of this mess

In my previous post, I said that PM Harper had reached this point because of an excess of zeal and  ruthlessness in cleaning up the Senate’s loose expenses regime. He has created this crisis and he needs to get out of it.

Senators Duffy and Wallin have had high expense claims that are difficult to justify to the public. But these expense claims were approved by their superiors in the Senate. If the practices were bad, they had been approved by the relevant authorities.

They were then told to pay back expenses which had been approved. For both, the sums involved are large (in the tens of thousands) and could only be paid on the basis of ongoing income. They were also led to believe that this would clean up the problem.

Then the Senate proposed to suspend the Senators and stop their pay, thus eliminating their ability to repay the money. Worse, they would still be Senators, thus bound to Senatorial rules as to how they could earn their incomes.

Thus two senior Tory officials would be personally ruined, face an old age of disgrace, drastically reduced income and life possibilities, on the basis that they had got the Prime Minister and the Party into hot water. Their actions were legal, and consistent with a lax culture of expenditure control.

Several possible explanations are available.

1) Machiavellian: Harper wants the crisis. He wants to wreck the legitimacy of the Senate. If a few Senators have to be sacrificed, too bad for them.

2) Cromwellian: Harper wants to punish the malefactors for visibly embarrassing the government more than he wants peace and reform of the Senate. Putting a head on a spike will send a useful message to the system.

3) Bad management: Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and Jean Chrétien would never have let this problem get so out of hand. Smooth political operators may countenance a little corruption but use it carefully or clean it up quietly.

4) Institutional: The PM is surrounded by too many acolytes under thirty and not enough men and women older than 45. There are not enough people around the PM who can say to him: “this is crazy, don’t do it”.

Ages ago, in another regime, I stated that the appointment of George Radwanski as Privacy Commissioner, and the tolerance too long extended to his mean, vindictive and humiliating management style, marked the beginning  of the end of the Liberal regime under Chretien. When the Grits stopped caring whom they appointed to manage the public service – their largest, most powerful fan base – then it was the beginning of the end for them.

Harper, by contrast,  is a man of principle, and to the best of my knowledge, moderate in his personal behaviour, although one hears too many stories of shouting at close subordinates to be certain. He has done some great things for Canada and I hope he will survive to do more.

I hope he will have the wit to get off this losing position. Making Senators Duffy and Wallin look like helpless victims of his rage, more sinned against than sinning, is not where he needs to be.