04.08.2015 06:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: do you detest her as much as I do?

In the long and storied history of Canadian politics, has there been anything – anything at all – as consistently disgusting and repellant and loathsome as the Canadian Senate? Has there been any political institution that has been so deserving of being dragged into the public square, and executed for all to see?  Ask yourself: is there?
 
No.  No, there isn’t.  
 
And rest assured, Senators, as you slouch in the Air Canada lounge, delicately clutching the Hill Times or some other paper in your manicured digits, waiting to board a flight back to the patch of dirt you claim to “represent” – Canadians intensely despise the institution to which you belong.  And, in large measure, Canadians despise many of you, too.
 
Bob Fife’s revelation that not a few of you have had your snouts wedged in the Parliamentary expense trough is, really, not news.  All of us had been expecting that particular blister to burst for, say, the past 148 years.  Still, Fife’s report that at least 40 of you have received letters from Auditor General Michael Ferguson about “questionable expense claims” – with many more such letters about to be popped in the mail – well, wow.  Fife’s reporting, always among the best on the Hill, suggested that the Senate – already writhing in the feral ooze at the bottom of some primordial pit – was about to slither downward to uncharted depths.
 
As CTV’s Fife reported: “Sources said former Liberal senator Rose-Marie Losier-Cool has been asked to account for about $100,000. When CTV News contacted her by phone, she refused to comment and hung up.”
 
Tidbits like these enrage average Canadians, to be sure.  But, take heart, enraged Canadians: the Senate will now indeed be killed off, and justly so.  And it will be killed off not by us, but by the Senators themselves.
 
The senatorial parade of sleaze and shame can’t be captured in a single opinion column – it would take up too many words.  But some notables merit quick mention: Senate Mike Duffy, of course, commencing trial this week on a multiplicity of charges.  Senator Pamela Wallin and Senator Patrick Brazeau and departed Senator Mac Harb, all currently facing charges and/or police investigations. Ex-Senator Raymond Lavigne, convicted of fraud and breach of trust.  Former Senator Michel Cogger, whose misadventures occupied the legal system for a decade.  Senator Eric Berntson, resigned, who was sentenced to a year in prison for illegally diverting government allowances. The departed Andrew Thompson, who lived in Mexico, but who always made certain to show up in the Senate often enough to draw a salary. And so on and so on.
 
Above all of these, however, stands Senator Nancy Ruth Rowell Jackman.  That’s the name she was born with, you see, but she prefers that we call her “Nancy Ruth.” Paul Martin appointed her more than a decade ago, but she was a Conservative.
 
She dropped the Jackman part, which perhaps makes it easier to forget that her brother is Hal Jackman, formerly bagman-in-chief for the Ontario PC Party.  Or that her father was Harry Jackman, another uber-rich Conservative from Toronto who dabbled in politics.  They were rich, rich, rich.
 
And rich Nancy Ruth Rowell Jackman is and was.  She made a couple dilettantish runs for the Ontario Conservatives in the Nineties.  On one occasion, the provincial Liberals produced a cheeky flyer about her, and it contained some gems – as well as some of her bon mots, neatly illustrating her worldview.  
 
Thus, we learned that she grew up in a 9,000-square-foot mansion, with a cook, a maid, a nanny, a seamstress and even someone to do the laundry.  One time, she went into town to run some errands, and came back with a shiny new Mercedes.  Private girls’ school Branksome Hall behind her, she started thinking about university.  “I guess it was arrogance,” Nancy allowed, “but I wasn’t really aware that going to university had anything to do with school marks.”
 
Living on her family’s millions didn’t bother.  “It was my due,” said she.
 
This week, of course, Nancy Ruth Rowell Jackman rocketed into the public consciousness when asked about the Auditor General’s question to her: namely, why not eat free airline food when it is offered?  Why expense something else?
 
Sniffed the Senator, in a quote that will live forever in infamy:  “Well, those (airline) breakfasts are pretty awful. If you want ice-cold Camembert with broken crackers, have it.”
 
The AG’s auditors, she added, don’t “understand anything of what it’s like to fly around the world to get here to Ottawa.”
 
Senator Nancy Ruth Rowell Jackman, a weary nation thanks you.  With your arrogance, with your appalling condescension and contempt, you have done more to hasten the Senate’s demise than anyone before you.
 
That takes some doing, “Nancy Ruth,” but you did it. Congratulations.
 
 

30 Comments

  1. I wait with bated breath for the AG to fire off letters to MP’s. Would love to see how they’re burning through taxpayer’s money.

  2. Brammer says:

    Regional representation, sober second thought; the senate, like communism, was a noble concept with terrible execution.

  3. Steve T says:

    If only it were true. Unfortunately, I believe there are provinces (Quebec, in particular, but also perhaps certain of the Maritimes) who will throw roadblocks in the way of Senate abolition, or even Senate reform. They will ask for concessions, compensation, etc, etc… and once again put Canada over the barrel. The current scandal will fade from memory, and the feds (and other provinces) will tire of trying to once again appease Quebec. So, we will be stuck with our ridiculous Senate, for evermore.

    I hope I’m wrong, but history tells me otherwise.

  4. Colin says:

    It’s a shame. I agree with Brammer. I wonder if the old notion of a Triple E Senate wouldn’t fix all that. I think it would be worth it to try. Often, we’ve seen unpopular bills get sent to the Senate and the resulting delay would allow for amendments to be made. If anything, it would, in the least, provide an obstacle to bills being passed with impunity.

  5. Pat says:

    Warren, you make the demise sound so simple and inevitable. If that were true, wouldn’t it have been buried long ago?

  6. raymond king says:

    While the senate in it’s present form is a bloody mess,I still believe there is a role for an unelected senate in our system of government.Changes could include:
    -eliminate all formal relationship with existing political parties(much like Trudeau has done)
    -establish a selection committee of say,university presidents,supreme cort judges,order of canada members to recommend to the prime minister future senate members
    -a new and very clear expense and accountability policy.

    • Joe says:

      I prefer a selection committee of all the people in the riding/province rather than place my trust in some sort of elite picking what they think are the brightest and the best.

  7. Merrill Smith says:

    It would not be easy, maybe not even possible to abolish the institution, but it shouldn’t be so difficult to starve it. David Lewis used to propose cutting Senators’ pay to a dollar a year. Their office, travel and other budgets could also be cut. Make it a ceremonial institution that meets once a month or so and members only get paid when they show up for work.

  8. edward nuff says:

    New book. Is Shame necessary. Apparently it is and with the Interwebs it’s more powerful than ever unless you have so much fuck you money you no longer care.

    http://www.amazon.ca/Is-Shame-Necessary-Uses-Tool/dp/0307907570

  9. Kelly says:

    But Nancy Ruth represents EXACTLY the sort of individual for whom the senate was set up in the first place. It’s a baby House of Lords — the house for the rich and entitled to keep an eye on the riff raff and ensure democracy doesn’t get too democratic. In law the Senate has at least as much official power as the House.

    Toss it. And chuck the monarchy as well. Every last vestige of colonialism needs to be wrung out of the system.

    • MississaugaPeter says:

      But no one has the guts to suggest this and run with it in the next election.

      The end of the monarchy would have probably been swift if King Chuck was on our bills 10-15 years ago. Now, after cleansing his reputation, and the passage of time, the prospect of seeing King Chuck daily is not as irritating and is actually palatable for most Canadians.

      Hopefully our immigrants will wake us up and tell us to start smelling the roses.

      My support is not obolition, but Triple E. Like the U.S. There needs to be second line of sober thought to counter a prime minister with a majority.

      My support is dumping the archaic monarchy. A republic please!

      My support is something better than first past the post: preferential voting or proportional representation. It’s the 21st generation folks. Even the Conservatives have used a system that weighs support in individual ridings, rather than just first past the post.

  10. sezme says:

    Canadian governmental institutions that are well past their “best before” dates:

    The Senate,
    The Monarchy,
    First Past the Post

  11. Henry Bloggins says:

    Dear Warren,

    This is the second recent column of yours I really liked.

    Please stop writing columns like these or I might end up liking you too.

  12. Derek Pearce says:

    What are the rules re if the Senate were to eventually lack quorum and then become empty due to lack of appointing senators? That seems like the only way it could be abolished, ie in practice but not officially.

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      You would have to open up the Constitution to do that. You can only leave vacancies for a certain period of time. They have got us every which way, unfortunately.

      PEI is already complaining about one of their seats being vacant for a long time.

      Also, lest we forget, “We have 24 Senators from Quebec and there are just six from Alberta and British Columbia. It`s to our advantage….” “To want to abolish it is demagoguery.”……Justin Trudeau.

  13. King Prick says:

    What’s more galling is the 317 million in lawsuits brought against my government by American corporations under NAFTA. That’s what we need to be disgusted by. The amount we pay out to AMERICAN CORPORATIONS is far more sickening that any Senator. Certainly, I’ll agree that some of their behaviours are contemptible but good lord people; lets deal with what’s really bleeding the country’s coffers dry—an unfair trade deal with the US. To concentrate on the shortcomings of the Senate is an insult to the shortcomings of our parliament and their unwillingness to keep our money in Canada. Think for a moment how much better our health care could be or our infrastructure or our R & D if we ratified NAFTA and stopped paying out money to parasitic American companies.

    Stop whining about the senate and let’s talk about something that’s actually important. Dissolving the senate wouldn’t benefit the country nearly as much as ratifying NAFTA. Why are we pandering to this Senate shell game, it’s just deflecting from the real issues. How sad and pathetic of us.

    • Jeff P says:

      Can you provide specific citations please? And how did you come up with 317 million. Seems a bit high for me.

      NAFTA allows US companies to do business in Canada under the same rules as Canadian companies. And it allows Canadian companies to operate in the US under the same laws as US companies. It’s just that simple.

      Anything else is just hyperbole.

  14. Jim H says:

    The Senate should face cutbacks just as other government departments are facing. Reduce their salaries, reduce their budgets and quit filling vacancies. Maybe these Senators will quit if there is no money left to steal. We keep thinking that we need the Senate but provincial governments are capable of operating without a Senate. Getting rid of the Senate would save a great deal of money and we wouldn’t have to put up with these pompous a$$holes who live to pick our pockets.

  15. Scotian says:

    No, I do not, and this seems to me a bit like grabbing at low hanging fruit.

    I value the concept of our Senate, the execution, not so much, but like someone else here already said I see the value of an unelected less powerful (which the Senate is) legislative filter than the elected House of Commons. I see the value of a place where legislation is gone over with an eye towards making it better without the same pressures brought inherent to the elected side thanks to the powers of the electorate and the need of having them first in mind. I find this idea that there is no place for unelected elements within any democratic system of government shallow thinking myself, now if those unelected Senators had equal or greater power than the elected elements, then sure, then there would be an issue, but that is not the case in our system.

    Does the Senate need work and cleaning up? On that sure I am in full agreement. Do I think it provides no useful role, well prior to the rise of Harper I would not have said so, but then I’ve never seen any government exercise the level of control over the Senate when it had the majority within it as we have seen from the Harper CPC. I can well remember times when the Senate controlled by the same party in both Houses blocked legislation from their own side because it was bad legislation, it is only the Harper CPC government that has been as controlling as it is today, and as the Duffy scandal from beginning to end has shown had become the case. Remember the documents that showed concern from the Senate side of the level of interference into the authority of the Senate itself by the PMO revealed as a part of the Duffy et al back in 2013.

    I also understand that it is effectively an impossibility to remove the Senate, so abolitionists, you are wasting yours and everyone elses time until and unless there is an willingness for major Constitutional talks in this nation, and I don’t see that anytime soon, no mater how much the Senate tanks in popular opinion. Reformers have a better chance within the major constraints, but anyone that thinks a EEE Senate is the way to go is also wanting to make government less effective, not more. Remember, in the US that bicameral setup was explicitly set up to do exactly that, make government less effective by design, yet in this nation there has generally been a much more collaborative view of the role of government in our society than in the US, and this is true from our outset, this is not some relatively recent creation as some modern conservatives would like us to believe.

    So again, I know I am one of the few voices out there that actually disagrees with the thrust of this post by our host, but there you go. While I am certainly no fan of the excesses and quality issues with many that currently sit in the Red Chamber I still see a real value, at least when we have a government that is not as abusive towards basic governing structures and processes as we have seen out of the Harper CPC government, which again I note has acted in multitude ways unprecedented in the way it abused the offices of power and government, including the Senate itself.

  16. Adam says:

    Despite my political leanings, I never believed senate reform was the way to go. An elected senate would cause even more gridlock and both houses would be able to rightly claim democratic legitimacy. Would be like a minority parliament or Washington gridlock on red bull.

    To me, killing the senate the right way – through amendment to the constitution is the only way. Does any party have the ‘nads to openly campaign to abolish it?! Some provinces would object but if the party that proposed it moved fwd and voters in each province responded favourably to abolition, how could they stand in the way? For those who will make the ‘protecting provincial and regional interest argument’, keep in mind that these senators are hardly fair representatives of their regions. In many ways they disgrace the very regions they purport to represent.

    Your piece traces back 148 years and fair enough, but many of the senators in trouble now (AKA the tip of the iceberg) are among the most recently appointed. My point? the institution is itself the problem.

    A good project 15+ years into the 21st century and nearly a half-century after mankind landed on the moon is to rid ourselves of this 19th century, elephant’s graveyard institution. Ding-dong, kill it dead.

    Canadian democracy will be better for it.

  17. Andy says:

    a simple recipe for Senate reform:

    Send all current Senators packing.
    Allow each province to send its own Senators to Ottawa, in accordance with current ratios.
    Provinces can select their Senators in whichever way they see fit. Appointment, election, bingo.
    Eliminate any part affiliations from the Senate.
    The Senate also chooses the GG, removing the obvious conflict of interest of having the PM choose their own ” boss”.

    I can’t see any province standing in the way of these reforms.

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      The allowing of the Provinces to select their own Senators has been in effect since Harper was first elected. I think the only Province that has done it is Alberta. Could be wrong.

      I don`t see any way you could send the current Senators packing.

  18. Africon says:

    Yes, I’m pretty sure that I detest her as much as you do.

    Problem is the constitutional difficulties in eliminating it as noted above.

    Requiring that senators are elected creates another problem and that is it become more credible and could become an obstacle to any government accomplishing anything or creating the kind of gridlock that we see too often in DC or some European countries.

    I see no easy solution but how about this –
    Each Province elects 6 senators regardless of where they live.
    with just a few rules –
    Every candidate must be an independant ie no candidate can have ever run or worked for ANY political party.
    Must be a Canadian citizen over 50 years old.
    One 6 year term and you’re gone.
    Income will be based on days worked.

    Not only would partisanship be eliminated, they would hopefully provide the HOC a very different angle of vision for every proposal.

  19. Blowhard D'arcy McGee says:

    Awesome article! Great Montreal Irish fighting spirit! The problem is that this democratic abomination is entrenched in our political culture and constitution.

    The argument that we need a check on a unicameral prime minister with a majority does not hold sway now that we have the Charter. The Supreme Court (and the Provinces themselves) are sufficient checks and balances on Parliament. The other reason that argument does not hold sway is that the senators are appointed hacks of the party in power.

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