Are we now living in a ‘banana republic?’

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday May 22 2013 in Opinion
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The mass media and particularly the self-righteous politicians of English North America would have you believe that if you look in the dictionary for the meaning of “corruption”, it is likely that you will find a representation of developing countries. They have often been referred to, with great disdain over the past many years, as “banana republics” and their corrupt leaders as “tin-pot dictators”.


One definition of corruption is a “lack of integrity or honesty; use of a position of trust for dishonest gain”.


The Senate is an arm of government, usually referred to as the Upper House or the chamber of sober second thought. Its membership is appointed by the government of the day and all legislation passed by the House of Commons is referred to the Senate for review and approval before being proclaimed or signed in law. Since only the Liberals and Conservatives (the Progressive Conservatives before them) have held power, the majority of senators are either Liberals or Conservatives.


The annual salary of senators is about $135,200 – and that is a base salary. There are additional potential earnings as a committee member and most of their expenses, when they are on Senate business, are paid courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer. Senators can serve until they reach age 75.


Over the past few weeks, four senators (three Conservatives and one Liberal) have come under the microscope because of questionable expense claims. Two very high profile Conservative senators have since resigned or recused themselves from the Senate’s Conservative Caucus to sit as independents as their expense claims are investigated. These expenses have to do largely with the claim for residence expenses but, in one case, it is about seemingly excessive travelling allowances.


Since these senators must live in Ottawa when the Senate is in session, if their principal residence is 100 kilometres or more away from the capital, they are provided a housing allowance to cover their living accommodation in Ottawa.


The two high profile senators, Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy, have a certain star status because of their previous occupations as prominent television journalists. Wallin was also a former Ontario government representative in New York. Perhaps it is too much to expect, but one would have thought that these former journalists would have been more cautious when filing claims for expenses, if only to protect their reputation.


Duffy’s hot water seems to be getting hotter. The committee which reviewed Duffy’s expenses found that his claim for $90,000 was unacceptable so he had to repay that amount, which he did. The water got somewhat hotter when it came out that the money to repay the amount came as a personal gift from the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright.


This is one of the things that really bother me. One would have thought that the Chief of Staff for the Prime Minister would have sought input from a number of people – lawyers, the prime minister, other advisors – about the optics and legalities of providing such a gift for the purpose of helping Duffy to repay money that might have been falsely claimed. If he did, then he was provided with very bad advice. If he did not, then one cannot help wondering what other rules he may have circumvented without consultation.


Wright has now resigned but that should not take him out of the mix as far as further investigations into this matter go. In his role as chief of staff, he is considered a principal advisor to the prime minister. Not so long ago, one of the main criticisms of the current mayor of Toronto was his apparent disregard for the conflict of interest rules. One would have thought that politicians at all levels would have taken stock by reviewing the guidelines that applied to them in carrying out their duties. Wright’s function is political and therefore his advice would have a partisan political tinge. His opposite number in the public service would be the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to Cabinet (currently Wayne Wouters). Nevertheless, Wright would have been bound by certain rules of behaviour, as all political staff would be.


The question that he faces is essentially an ethical one. Can his gift of so large an amount be conceived as currying the favour of a sitting representative who, from time to time, will vote on pieces of legislation that, for the most part, are put forward by the government?


The trouble for Duffy got worse when it was revealed that he claimed expenses from both the Senate and the Conservative Party while apparently on fundraising appearances for the Conservative Party, or as it is called, “double-dipping”.


So, what does this all say about the Conservative Party of Canada under the leadership of Stephen Harper? This is his first majority government and there have been a trail of questionable practices, including the infamous “robo-calls” scandal.


Oh, one final ethical note: It was also revealed this past week that the government has been advertising a job training program that has not even been approved by Parliament yet.


Of course, you will not find the major media referring to these as corruption practices. After all, they are in the northern hemisphere.