THUNDER BAY – Politics – I hope you and your family were able to relax and enjoy the Labour Day long weekend. Since the beginning of the summer break in parliament there have been some important developments on the Senate Scandal which keeps going and growing, so here is a bit of an update.
The Prime Minister took a beating about the Senate Scandal in Question Period in the lead up to the summer break and has now decided that the scrutiny is becoming a little too intense at this point. So instead of Parliament returning as scheduled Mr. Harper has decided to prorogue and bring the MPs back in late October or early November when he hopes the whole Senate mess will have died down a bit. The looming prorogation however hasn’t stopped the Senate Scandal story from moving forward though as the RCMP has confirmed recently that it is formally investigating and investigators believe that they have grounds to lay “breach of public trust” charges upon one or more people involved. Unidentified sources have also apparently confirmed that “numerous” individuals in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Senate have been interviewed by the RCMP in their investigation thus far.
In another development last month Auditor General Michael Ferguson agreed to look at the travel and expenses of all Senators, more than 100 in all, who sit in our unelected chamber. Mr. Ferguson wants an in-depth look at their spending on housing, travel, and office expenses. We should recall at this point that the current Senate Scandal came to be after a routine and superficial audit of just 7 random Senators that happen to include Senators Duffy, Brazeau, and Wallin. With more than 90 additional audits coming over the next two years I think we can expect many more fraudulent expense claims or worse to surface. Stay tuned on this one.
More recently, in the past few days, the Senate Ethics Commissioner (yes they actually have one!), Lyse Ricard, agreed to look into the conduct of yet another Harper Senate appointee, Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu. Ms. Ricard’s investigation will focus on whether Mr. Boisvenu has violated the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators. Ms. Ricard’s investigation is expected to focus on two types of activities that Senators are prohibited from undertaking while serving. According to conflict of interest rules, Senators are not allowed to; a) use their official position to further their own or another person’s private interests, nor b) attempt to influence someone else’s decisions to further those private interests.
This latest ethics investigation of a Harper Senate appointee stems from media reports last year that Mr. Boisvenu had separated from his wife, left the couple’s Sherbrooke Quebec home, and moved to Gatineau Quebec just across the river from Ottawa. During this time, Mr. Boisvenu also admitted to having a romantic relationship with a member of his Ottawa staff and claiming housing expenses while staying at her private residence, the one in Gatineau. The official expense rules say that a Senator must live 100km or more away from Ottawa in order to receive a housing allowance, yet Mr. Boisvenu made these inappropriate housing claims while living within walking distance of his work. It should be noted that Mr. Boisvenu paid back this money back when the story broke in the media.
Mr. Boisvenu’s inappropriate housing claims are both familiar and troubling, but it would seem that Mr. Boisvenu has also run afoul of the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators in at least two ways. Mr. Boisvenu has apparently confirmed to Montreal newspaper La Presse that he had intervened “as any former boss would” to; a) ensure that this “family member” who had left his office, found other employment with the Senate administration; and b) that this individual was given special treatment (extra vacation time) during her employment with the Senate. I regret that Mr. Boisvenu has experienced familial difficulties, as I do for anyone that has, but there is a Conflict of Interest Code for Senators for a reason and Mr. Boisvenu appears to have admitted violating it at least twice – that we know of.
So these are the most recent developments in the ongoing and ever growing Senate Scandal. I fully expect much more news to come to light in the days and weeks ahead, and that charges are likely to be laid against some Senators and perhaps members of Prime Minister Harper’s own office. Is it any wonder now why New Democrats have sought to abolish our embarrassing ‘Triple-U’ (Unelected, Unaccountable, and Under Investigation) Senate for more than 40 years?
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River