Who to punish for $100M we invest in Senate?

What would you do if you hired a team of managers to administer a project on your behalf and you later discover that their lack of integrity and responsibility results in the wastage of most of the $100 million you invest in the project every year?

Would you fire them for incompetence, would you have them charged for fraud, corruption and breach of trust or would you do both?

Those are important questions. We must not be side-tracked by who did or failed to do what in the decades and centuries of the past. Nor should we limit ourselves to one category of culprits. Nor indeed should we limit ourselves to one category of corrective action.

Therefore, punishment might be just one aspect of such corrective action. But let us start there.

Who is to be held accountable for the current scandalous situation involving allegations and formal court charges for fraud, misuse and abuse of Senate expenses? For Senators’ blatant fundraising and political campaigning for a political party? For the excessive filling of Senate vacancies with political party hacks and persons whose conduct outside of Parliament leads to criminal charges? And for an absence of appropriately clear, comprehensive and effective rules for the use of Senators’ time and expense accounts?

Put differently, are we to blame the Senators, the prime minister who appointed them, or the administrative managers of the Senate (the heads and members of the Senate committees, plus the public servants on the staff)? How about sharing the blame among all of them, while saving the lion’s share of the dishonor for the master controller who not only decides on the appointment of all Senators but is also the controlling focal point for the flow of information and for the micro-management of the federal departments and agencies?

That approach to blame is not idle finger-pointing. It is based on the objective of identifying who is to be held responsible for the far greater wastage and abasement which goes beyond the abuse of our $100 million every year. We have already understood the loss of the value of our upper chamber, the place for second and more sober thoughts on the business of state that passes through the House of Commons. We are also fully aware of the consequent loss of confidence in politicians and political parties.

What we should really be talking about is the consequent loss of confidence in political governance, that is to say, in the principles and practice of participatory democracy.

So what are we to do about all of this?

There are four options which are frequently mentioned. Abolishing the Senate or making it obligatory for all Senators to be directly elected by the citizenry, in the same way MPs are elected to the House of Commons, which will not happen in our lifetimes. The huge challenge of getting such major constitutional changes approved by the required special majority vote is too steep a Parliamentary Hill to climb.

Rather, let us look to the two other options which are more realizable. The first is for us to exercise our responsibility as citizens to protest against the things we strongly dislike. We should protest in as many ways as possible but especially with our votes in this year’s federal election.

The second option becomes possible only after we shall have tossed out the federal “regime” that currently stands accused for, among other misdeeds, the massive and abusive mismanagement of our $100 million annual investment in the Senate.

The second and last of these positive and realistic options is to make the Senate work, through a political multi-party arrangement with new ground rules for operation of the Senate, including an appointment process. The substance of this new dispensation must be consistent with our existing Constitution but more transparent and equitable than the ongoing circus in which neither Kings nor Clowns are wearing any clothes.

We look forward to your inputs into the process of clarifying who is a king and who is a clown.