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ANDERSON: A tale of two scandals

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June 23, 2015 - 7:14 AM

To hear the mainstream Canadian media talk about the so-called Senate "scandal," one would think the Auditor General took it upon himself to clean up the Senate and in doing so caught the Tories doing... we're-not-sure-what-but-it's-probably-bad. This popular narrative is highly misleading. Moreover, it deflects from a truly egregious scandal, and one that the media seems to have completely forgotten.

?Let's review the Senate audit: First, the Auditor General (AG) was called in 2013 by Tory Senator Marjory LeBreton, who was appointed Leader of the Government in the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006. The call was part of a promised move by Harper to increase government transparency. 

Second, the AG was given unlimited access to Senate expenses - something rare indeed - and he embarked on an unhindered two-year investigation.

Third, now that the audit is released, 30 Senators are in the AG's gunsights and 19 are openly challenging the findings... well over half of them Liberals. It is clear to any unbiased observer that the Senate has been using questionable accounting practices for decades and that they only came to light as a result of a Conservative promise of more transparency and accountability.

The Liberals, for their part, declined to comment when the Conservatives asked the AG to investigate the entire Senate.  Since then the Liberal Party has tried to wallflower its way through the audit, keeping a very low profile and ultimately shedding all responsibility for its own senators.

Of course the NDP, which has no appointed Senators because it has never formed government and its historical status has drifted between impotent rump caucus and ankle-biting minority, is inclined to create its own narrative. After all, the more noise that can be created over the Senate the less you're likely to hear about a far worse scandal... the NDP satellite office scandal. Haven't heard about the NDP satellite office scandal? Don't be surprised... most people haven't.

In August 2014, the Board of Internal Economy, which oversees House of Commons administration, found that the NDP was using taxpayer money to set up party offices possibly dedicated to partisan affairs... in effect tax-paid propaganda operators masquerading as parliamentary staff. This is explicitly forbidden by the Parliament of Canada Act.

In a nutshell, 68 NDP MPs contributed budget money toward housing taxpayer-paid "parliamentary staffers" in NDP offices in Quebec. NDP party leader (Nycole Turmel), among others, apparently lied about the location of those workers, telling House administration managers that the workers were based in Ottawa. To date, the Board of Internal Economy has determined that the NDP not only broke the rules, but owes Canadian taxpayers $2.7 million in misused parliamentary budget funds. To date nothing has been paid back.

It's important to contrast the actions of the parties involved in the senate audit and the satellite office scandal:

First, the senate audit.  The Conservatives brought the audit about, and when three of its senators were found to be in egregious breach of the rules they were immediately fired, as was Chief of Staff Nigel Wright when he became involved in Senator Mike Duffy's case. The Liberals for their part neither defended nor condemned the Liberal senator who was in more or less the same situation. Knowing what must be coming, Trudeau threw the entire embarrassment out the window by cynically pretending that the Liberal senators weren't Liberals at all. 

Second, the satellite office scandal. Instead of accepting responsibility for a clear infringement of parliamentary rules, both Thomas Mulcair and the NDP have been fighting tooth and nail to avoid paying taxpayer money back. In fact, Mulcair embarked on a re-enactment of Bill Clinton's definition of "is," descending into arcane legalese - in lawyerly Latin yet - to argue that housing staffers in party offices must be legal since it wasn't explicitly forbidden... rather like arguing that killing someone with a spoon must be legal since there is no law explicitly forbidding murder-by-spoon.

So we have the Conservative Party not only instigating a house cleaning but taking responsibility for its dirty laundry, the Liberals behaving like 21st century Machiavellians, and the NDP - having been caught elbow deep in the cookie jar - simply denying that it did anything wrong.  And yet... and yet... to hear the Canadian mainstream media talk about National politics, you'd think the Conservatives were the bad guys. What gives?

— Scott Anderson is a Vernon City Councillor, freelance writer, commissioned officer in the Canadian Forces Reserves and a bunch of other stuff.  His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Philosophy, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode.

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