A growing number of scandals surrounding Prime Minister Harper and his entourage are doing more than simply destroying his party’s and his own reputation – they are also revealing the disintegration of a supposedly democratic system. Thanks to politicians like Bev Oda, Peter Penashue, and Mike Duffy, Canadians are steadily losing confidence in their government. Let us look back at some of the political controversies surrounding the Conservative party in Canada.
Jump back in time to 2011, when Conservative MP Bev Oda was a household name thanks to the media coverage of her ridiculous expense claims: limousine rides and unnecessary hotel stays were billed to taxpayers. Although Oda was also accused of altering official documents, a parliamentary committee decision was never reached due to a non-confidence motion that ended the session. Justice was served in the damage to her reputation – Oda chose to resign as Cabinet member and MP (with her pension intact) – but the issue still has not been formally addressed.
Earlier that year, in the 2011 federal elections, Peter Penashue won the riding of Labrador. What should have been a celebration for the Innu native of the area turned into the first of many expense scandals: during his campaign, Penashue accepted more than $45,000 in ineligible contributions. Like Bev Oda, the Conservative MP was forced to pay back the funds, but kept his seat with nothing less than a reprimand.
Where does our Prime Minister fit in all of this? Stephen Harper may have pledged to ‘Stand Up for Canada’, but he appears to have been lounging with his feet up these past seven years. He has stood in solidarity or self-proclaimed ignorance with all of his Conservative colleagues. We cannot blame him for the poor decisions and values of his MPs, but we can hold him accountable for failing to hold to his promise of an open, responsible government. The Senate expense scandal is a perfect example of his lack of engagement and initiative.
Many already view the ‘sober second thought’ institution as a waste of time, and more and more are beginning to recognise that it is also a waste of money. Of course, it would be a much lighter burden on taxpayers’ dollars if fraudulent claims were made less often. So far, accusations have been made against Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin, and the infamous Mike Duffy. All three have chosen to sit as independents until the issue is resolved, but this temporary measure will most likely be a long-lasting one as investigations into expense claims only begin. It would be surprising if the current situation deviated from the precedents set by Penashue and Oda : Canadian politicians have too often gotten out of fraud allegations scot-free, and it is probable that these greedy senators will be no exception.
There is not enough room in this article to cover all the scandals that have occurred in the past decade : Arthur Porter and Bruce Carson are two of the bigger names, but former Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin did not end their careers with unscathed reputations either. Is the media simply paying more attention to the actions of our government, or is corruption becoming more prevalent? The latter seems more likely, as politicians have never been safe from the scrutiny of analysts and journalists. Despite polls indicating that this country is among the least corrupt, recent events like the ones previously mentioned are proof enough that Canada has a real corruption problem that is slowly creeping from seat to seat in the House of Commons and the Senate.
There is no easy solution, no party is exempt, and no electorate is strong enough and united enough to make their representatives entirely accountable. Abolishing the Senate would not solve the lower house’s problems, and there is not enough money in the world to keep MPs happy. Perhaps the solution lies in who we vote for. We have often been told that voting simply means choosing the least crooked of all the candidates. Should we disregard policy for honesty and personal values? It’s worth a shot: by Canadian standards, it cannot get much worse than this.
– Emma Meldrum
(Featured photo: The Prime Minister’s Office, Creative Commons, Flickr)