Politics has been described as the Sopranos without guns. Over the past week we have seen the hand-to-hand combat come out from the back rooms. We have learned five things as we have watched the soap opera unfold:
1) Being a Senator is sort of like having a job for life… wait a minute, it is. Senators are compensated and then taxpayers are expected to cover their housing, meals and travel. You know, the kind of employment contract that all Canadians have with their employers. When the Auditor General shines the light on Senator expenses over the coming months, there will be more than three Senators in trouble with the Senate Board of Internal Economy for inappropriate expenditures. Our advice is that Senators should avoid throwing too many rocks this week, as they may be the recipients in coming months.
2) Senators are typically party bagmen who are required in our parliamentary process but serve no real functional purpose. Listening to the Senate Question Period (yes they have Question Period) was painful. If cameras were allowed to televise proceedings, the Senate probably would have been reformed or abolished thirty years ago. At one point during the Senate questions this week, there was a Senator recounting old Chretien election stories that occurred twenty years ago.
3) The PMO and Prime Minister have been asleep at the switch. How can a Prime Minister that has been described as controlling allow the public airing of the Senate’s dirty laundry and then permit the Senate Leader to propose a back room deal to one of the accused three? Who’s in charge of the Senate or are they just a bunch of rogue politicians?
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Prime Minister Harper prorogued the House, reset the agenda with a Throne Speech, signed the European / Canada Free Trade Agreement, reported that our financial outlook was relatively strong and that our budgetary deficit was lower than expected. All of this good news walking into the Conservative Convention in Calgary later this week. All of the positive momentum has certainly been drained with the Senate mess.
4) Prime Minister Harper needs to get out in front of this issue in four ways: a) Take the reins of the Senate to ensure that the party is unified and that the message is controlled; b) Resolve the outcome of the three Senators in question by the end of day Tuesday in a way that will satisfy voters; c) Sit down for a televised interview this week before the Conservative convention. Canadians need to understand what has happened in the PMO over the past few months without the theatrics of Question Period; and d) Canadians need to hear what the government’s plans are for the Senate. Canadians have tuned in and realize that the Senate is dysfunctional.
While the activities on the Hill were interesting to watch for those who report on politics and policy makers, Canadian democratic institutions cannot afford too many more days of this drama before there is longer-term damage. Notwithstanding the recommendations outlined above for Prime Minister Harper, his brand probably has become further tarnished and we’ll watch to see if there is any recovery possible. If not, the Tory knives and chatter will begin this weekend in Calgary at the Conservative Convention. Tony may be making an appearance after all.