- Created on Sunday, 22 September 2013 18:55
- Hits: 306
By JESSE ROBITAILLE
Some are truly annoyed while others remain unaware. More still are apathetic — either too busy with their own lives or disillusioned to the point of not caring — and that’s as bad for democracy as stealing taxpayers’ money.
And if it’s true what they say, that we get the government we deserve, then the recent Senate scandal is very telling of our electorate. But what came first, the apathetic citizen or the dystopian government?
According to a poll done by Nanos Research last month, Canadians are concerned. Along with jobs and the economy, corruption and the Senate topped the list of the average Canadian’s worries. The poll confirmed the Conservatives, who continue to be entangled in the Senate scandal, are struggling to regain voter confidence with less than 30 per cent support — their lowest level since before the 2006 election, when Stephen Harper first became prime minister.
To further complicate matters, Harper says he will ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament until some time in October.
Harper has rejected accusations he is seeking prorogation to avoid further questioning about the Senate scandal; however, he said there is “significant evidence” that some senators did not follow the rules outlining what senators can claim as expenses, a bill that is ultimately footed by the taxpayer.
Jordan Thurlow, a Computer Programmer Analyst student at Niagara College’s Welland campus, says there should be more oversight over senators’ expense claims.
“They waste money that could be directed towards education resources that would help the Canadian economy long-term. The laws need to be made more precise.”
Thurlow says his biggest problem with prorogation is the effect it has on the democratic process.
“I know he [Harper] needs the Governor General’s permission, but the main thing I find alarming is the government’s central figure shutting down democracy,” says Thurlow.
Welland Federal Liberal Association President Peter Opdam says the Senate and prorogation are useful political tools but believes we need to reform both by creating a new, clear mandate.
“Prorogation itself is a political tool that has an acceptable place in parliamentary procedure. It’s there to reset Parliament after a government has reached the end of its legislative agenda,” says Opdam. “Yet, all too often today, it’s used for blatantly political purposes — to avoid this scandal or that report.”
It’s those same political purposes that are behind the upcoming prorogation, says Opdam.
“It’s clear that’s why it was used here, as well as when Mr. Harper used it during the 2008 coalition crisis to save himself,” he says. “I think we need to move back to a Parliament and politics that put our representatives first and not the PMO [Prime Minister’s Office] and its unelected staffers.”
In June 2012, Auditor General Michael Ferguson released a report finding some senators’ expense claims vague and travel claims unsubstantial. Aside from that, Ferguson came away with a positive view.
“With one exception that I will discuss later, I am pleased to say that we found no major weaknesses in the administrations of the Senate or the House of Commons,” said Ferguson at a press conference on June 13, 2012, the day the reports were tabled.
Fast-forward one year and the burgeoning Senate scandal has engulfed Canadian politics. In November 2012, Marjory LeBreton, the leader of the government in the Senate, asked the board of internal economy to investigate whether Senator Patrick Brazeau was illegitimately collecting a housing allowance. Less than a month later, the committee announced it would conduct an audit to assess “whether senators’ declarations of primary and secondary residence are supported by sufficient documentation.”
Over the next few months, Senators Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Pamela Wallin were implicated in the scandal — everything from missing paperwork to back-room cheque-signings to hundreds of thousands of dollars missing from the public purse — resulting in a federal police investigation and a personal audit by the country’s financial watchdog, who says it’ll be about 18 months before it’s determined where all the money went.
A spokesperson for the auditor general recently confirmed an audit to review all senators’ expenses is underway.
“The audit has started. We’re in the planning phase,” Ghislain Desjardins told CBC News.
Karissa Millar, a student in the Social Service Worker program here, says the Senate scandal is angering.
“They’re using it for themselves,” says Millar. “People need houses and food, and there are people in poverty in our country. They need it more than wealthy politicians.”
Millar says citizens are paying for the personal expenses of government officials, something she thinks is wrong. “Why should we have to pay more taxes for something that doesn’t help us?”