Will Duffy Case Spark Citizen Outrage?

I was listening to a CBC broadcast once again reciting the litany of

Parliament of Canada
Parliament of Canada

charges against suspended Senator Mike Duffy. Living in the serenity of the Similkameen Valley, I was tempted to think this court case in Ottawa is too far removed to impact me or my neighbours. Surely we are insulated against the alleged predations of Mr. Duffy.

Then I recalled Bruce Hutchison’s words in The Unfinished Country, “Like most capitals,” Hutchison contends, “Ottawa is a parasite, a kept woman, feeding on taxpayers from coast to coast.”

It’s not what I want to hear about those who govern us. I would much prefer to think well of them. Maybe that is at the root of the problem. We assume our affairs are being tended to with integrity. This assumption lulls us into a state of complacency. The result is we don’t pay attention.

There have always been individuals prepared to take advantage of citizen apathy. The Pacific Railway Scandal during the tenure of our first PM, John A. McDonald, is an early Canadian example. More recently Vanessa Redgrave, former Premier of Alberta, became embroiled in a highly publicized case of misuse of public funds. Highly placed executives in the Portland Hotel Society lived lavishly on donated funds. Examples abound at every level of government and society.

Mr. Duffy’s attorney, Donald Bayne, has offered the explanation that “the rules about Senate expenses are unclear.”

It is apparently Duffy’s view, and that of at least some Senators, when rules are unclear it’s permissible to be reckless with our tax dollars. Although it would be unfair to believe all Senators have interpreted the rules too loosely, they have not chosen to rectify this situation that allows some members to live like High Rollers on the public purse. If they don’t understand that vague rules will lead to overspending on the part of some Senators, do they have the wisdom and integrity to represent us adequately?

I’d leave this alone if there were sufficient funds for a decent medical facility in our valley. If streets in disrepair in Hedley were redone with real blacktop. If we saw a police cruiser in town more than occasionally. If the aging infrastructures of towns and cities were being properly maintained. If disabled individuals and frail seniors received more services in their homes or in care facilities. If there were effective programs to support families with special needs children and youth.

The sense of entitlement has never been dealt with because Senators from all parties have become comfortable with rules that permit virtually any interpretation. It’s a system that will always remain in place unless we become sufficiently irritated to shake off our lethargy and firmly instruct political leaders to remove the lavish “public trough”.

Like many of my neighbours in this valley, I value the distance from our provincial and national capitals. I understand, however, that this distance does not impair the ability of the greedy ones in those capitals to be free wheeling with our tax dollars. I know also that I should not expect that the current revelations of shoddy practises will shame the Senate into enacting substantive change. The beneficiaries of our largess are not likely to do it willingly, or on their own initiative. The impetus will need to come from us, the citizens of this nation.

I have immense respect for those who write or call their elected representatives. Also for individuals who pen letters to editors of newspapers. Although it requires patience and perseverance, governments sometimes will change policies and actions due to significant public outrage and pushback.

Donald Bayne has asserted the Senate permits its rules to be interpreted in virtually any way a Senator chooses. His client should therefore not be punished for his extravagant interpretation of the vague rules. If we disagree, or at least feel strongly the rules need to be tightened, this is an opportune time to make our views known on this matter. Complaining to a neighbour over the fence won’t be effective. A brief note to our local political representatives and to leaders of the major parties could make a difference. Change comes when enough individuals act.

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