Senate Scandal Hammers Prime Minister

Senate of Canada
Senate of Canada Chamber

THUNDER BAY – The Conservatives rode to power on a platform that they would run an honest and more open government. Following the Sponsorship Scandal, the Liberals were painted as tainted. The Senate Scandal impact on the Conservative brand is seemingly gaining momentum.

The potential damage to the Prime Minister is potent. According to a poll conducted by Ispos Reid for CTV News, “Just one in ten (13%) Canadians are ‘convinced that the Prime Minister had no knowledge of the gift and was deliberately kept in the dark by Mr. Wright’. Nearly half (44%) say they’re ‘not sure whether or not the Prime Minister had any knowledge of the monetary gift made by Mr. Wright at the time’. Four in ten (42%) Canadians, though, are ‘convinced that the Prime Minister would have known about the monetary gift by Mr. Wright at the time’.”

Prime Minister and Conservative Party Tainted

English: Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister
English: Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ipso Reid Poll finds that “Canadians want the Senate-expenses investigation to be handled outside of Parliament and in the hands of the RCMP (44%) or a public inquiry led by a judge (31%).

The problem for the Conservatives is that by painting the Liberals as corrupt, and themselves as changing how Canada is governed, the scandal hits hard at their constituency base, and boxes the party.

In the video, Conservative John Baird expressed how replacing accountability will be a priority.

“In fact, few (6%) believe the issue should be left to the Senate to investigate, and only one in ten (12%) believe the House of Commons Ethics Committee should lead the investigation (12%). One in ten (8%) Canadians believe that we should ‘drop the whole issue and move on without any further investigation because it is not really a big deal’.”

The damage to the Prime Minister is hitting the Conservative Party hard in the poll. The Liberals have jumped to a lead over the Conservatives. A full two thirds of the people surveyed are saying that  the ‘involvement of the Prime Minister’s Office in the Senate-expenses issue represents a serious ethical breach by the Prime Minister and his government which throws in to question their fitness to govern’, while one in three (34%) Canadians is more closely aligned with the view that it ‘represents a relatively minor issue that says little about the ethical fitness of the Prime Minister and his government’s fitness to govern Canada’.

At the request of the Senate of Canada, the external auditing firm Deloitte has audited a number of Senator’s expense reports and has said there are problems with some claims relating to housing allowances and travel expenses. In one case, Senator Mike Duffy repaid $90,000 in expenses by way of a monetary gift he receive from the now former Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, Nigel Wright. Questions surrounding the appropriateness of the gift have resulted in Senator Duffy resigning from the Conservative caucus and Nigel Wright resigning as Chief of Staff. The Prime Minister has stated that he had no knowledge of Mr. Wright’s actions.

The Prime Minister, well known to be a very hands on and controlling manager, is not generating a great deal of trust over his handling of the issue.

The question arises as to what should be done with Senators should they be found to have been in violation of Senate expense policy. One quarter (23%) of Canadians more closely believes that ‘it’s possible that they made clerical mistakes and that they should be able to pay back the expenses that they shouldn’t have claimed, and stay as a Senator’. Conversely, most (77%) Canadians are of the opinion that ‘regardless of their personal excuses, if there has been a violation of living allowance expenses, they should have known better and, if found to be in breach, should resign from the Senate’.

What Now for The Senate…

Canadian SenateThe recent scandal has not helped the Senate in its ongoing public-relations battle for relevancy and support among the Canadian population. Four in ten (43%) believe the Senate should ‘be done away with completely’, which is up 7 points from a similar poll conducted in February of 2013. A similar proportion (45%) would prefer that ‘it be reformed to make it, for example, an elected body’, up 3 points. Just one in ten (13%) Canadians believes that the Senate should ‘be kept as is’, which is down a significant 9 points in the last three months.

Wholesale reform, however, is unlikely to come quickly. In the meantime, nine in ten (92%) Canadians ‘support’ (69% strongly/23% somewhat) the idea of requiring Senators to post all of their expense reports online, along with receipts’, while just one in ten (8%) ‘oppose’ (2% strongly/6% somewhat) this idea. There are similar levels of support (92% — 68% strongly/24% somewhat) for requiring Members of Parliament to post all of their expense reports and receipts online for public scrutiny, while few (8%) oppose (2% strongly/6% somewhat).

Among those who would support such measures, eight in ten (82%) believe that, as a result, MPs and Senators would be more responsible with taxpayers money for their expenses’. But, two in ten (18%) don’t think there would be much change, saying that ‘things would just continue as they are without Senators or MPs being more responsible with taxpayers dollars’.

Liberal Party Builds Lead as Tory Brand Tainted…

With three out of four Senators whose expenses are currently being investigated being Conservatives at the outset of the investigation (some of whom have since resigned from caucus), along with the apparent involvement of the Prime Minister’s office, it appears that the entire situation has not helped the Conservative Party to stem the momentum of the Liberals.

If an election were held tomorrow, 36% of decided voters would vote for the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau (up 1 point since last month), while 30% would vote for the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Harper (down 2 points). The NDP, led by Thomas Mulcair, has rebounded to 27% support (up 2 points). The Bloc would garner 4% of the vote nationally (down 1 point) while some other party, including Elizabeth May’s Green Party, would receive 4% of the vote (up 1 point).

Thinking about the Conservative government and Stephen Harper, nearly four in ten (38%) say that they ‘approve’ (7% strongly/30% somewhat) of their performance, which is down 4 points since last month. Conversely, six in ten (62%) ‘disapprove’ (35% strongly/27% somewhat) of the government’s performance.

Although it is likely two more years until the next federal election, what is troubling for the Prime Minister is that just 31% of Canadians now believe that ‘the Harper Government has done a good job and deserves re-election’. In December of 2010, prior to the Federal Election in the spring of 2011, 42% thought the Prime Minister deserved re-election, a difference of 11 points. Conversely, seven in ten (69%) Canadians are now closer to the opinion that it is ‘time for another federal party to take over’, while, prior to the last election only 58% thought so.

Likely explaining the drop in support for Stephen Harper and the Conservative party is the fact that he is behind on various leadership attributes.

  • Thinking about which leader is best described as someone you can trust, Justin Trudeau (38%, down 4 points) is ahead of Stephen Harper (32%, unchanged) and Thomas Mulcair (30%, up 5 points).
  • When it comes to being someone who has what it takes to lead Canada, Justin Trudeau (38%, down 2 points) edges out Stephen Harper (36%, down 1 point), who is ahead of Mulcair (27%, up 4 points).
  • On the topic of someone who will provide and open, responsible and ethical government, Justin Trudeau (38%, down 4 points) leads again, followed this time by Mulcair (33%, up 5 points) and then Harper (29%, down 1 point).
  • Focusing on someone who will promote democracy and its processes effectively, Justin Trudeau (39%, down 3 points) leads Harper (31%, unchanged) and Mulcair (29%, up 2 points).
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