Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Mike Duffy Trial and the Marring of Canadian Politics

Senator Mike Duffy of Prince Edward Island (theoretically) is on trial related to the misuse of public funds and the abuse of his office. The acceptance of $90,000 as a bribe and the petty corruption that has already been revealed in the five short days of the trial are enough to give anyone pause. But the Mike Duffy trial goes far beyond the criticism of the man itself. Observers of the trial say that perhaps the most damning aspect of the trial is that his actions may merely be an extreme form of common practice at the heart of Canadian politics. The rot is deep in the Senate, that much is clear.

The Senate is a tragic institution. If it were a functioning body it might do a great deal to balance out the unrestrained power of the Prime Minister, as is the case in Australia. Instead the Senate is the most outwardly sanctioned bastion of public corruption in the country. The litany of abuses are many and scandal in the Senate is as old as the institution itself. Unlike say an ambassadorship the duties and requirements of senators are much more poorly defined. Instead we require them to serve a certain amount of time to be eligible for their generous compensation and benefits.

Aside from the Senate's dereliction as a proper check on the House of Commons it does a disservice to politics in general in this country. The average citizen sees no difference between Senator Mike Duffy and the MPs and candidates who will stand for election in about six months. Mike Duffy has the curse of being famous and infamous. As a well-known figure his story carries weight that the backroom fundraiser given a cushy job would not normally attract. While not all politicians deserve to be hit with the broad Mike Duffy brush it is certainly fair to question the health of the institution and the judgement of the Prime Minister who appointed him.

As Althia Raj wrote in the Huffington Post, Mike Duffy is putting Prime Minister Harper as much as anything else on trial in this case. The testimony and documents submitted so far paints a bleak figure of a greedy Senator using public funds to aggrandize himself and enrich his party. The Mike Duffy trial is alluding more and more to the fact that the Senate may simply be an embezzlement machine for political parties to grant the ultimate patronage to their backers. Troubling does not being to describe it.

What's worse, while this trial is likely to harden Canadian cynicism on the topic of Canadian politics it is unlikely to sway voters decisively in the coming election. I've heard it all before far too many times, "They're all corrupt anyway." Ultimately though the Prime Minister has to be judged in part by the caliber and actions of a man that he appointed and for a long time defended before throwing him under the great metaphorical bus.

This trial cannot be anything less than a condemnation of the status quo in Ottawa. Reform is desperately needed for the Senate, meaningful reform, likely requiring constitutional amendments. Otherwise Mr. Duffy's trial and the scandal of Prime Minister Harper will not be the last of its kind.

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