Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s admission he smoked crack “in a drunken stupor” has dwarfed another political scandal in Canada that reaches all the way to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.
Ford on Tuesday admitted to reporters he’s tried the drug in the past, but said he’s not an addict and refuses to resign. That's not good enough for his colleagues.
“It would have been best for himself and for his family for him to step aside,” Toronto city council member Gary Crawford said Wednesday. “I like the guy, I care about him, but we have to think about what is best for the city.”
Public policy advisor Brooks Barnett on Wednesday became the first Ford staffer to quit as a result of the boss's bad habits.
Yet, while Ford confessed, it took much attention away from Canada’s other political foofaraw.
About four hours north in Ottawa, Canada’s national capital, three senators were losing their jobs in a growing expense account scandal. Here, to prove Canadian politics are more exciting than ever, is a look inside the “Red Chamber” and politicians in hot water not named Rob Ford.
First, here’s a quick primer on politics north of the 49th parallel. The Canadian senate is relatively powerless, and calls for its abolition have long echoed from coast to coast. While it’s considered the “upper house,” senators are appointed (often as patronage). Bills must pass through the senate before becoming laws, and are considered "sober second thought," they almost never reject anything. This most recent scandal involves senators and how they file travel and housing expenses.
The trio of Conservative senators – Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau – hand-picked by the PM in 2009 were suspended without pay on Tuesday as a result.
A former TV journalist who covered Parliament Hill, Duffy attracted attention because he claimed living allowance for a home hundreds of miles away in the province of Prince Edward Island despite living in Ottawa for decades. It got messy when he said the Prime Minister’s Office cut him a check for $90,000 to cover disputed expenses.
Police want to see email and documents Duffy says prove the PMO orchestrated the whole “dirty scheme.” Duffy says he’s got email to prove Harper’s chief of staff provided the embattled senator with a “script.”
Duffy brought the whole mess right to the prime minister’s front door. Chief of staff Nigel Wright resigned, but that did nothing to stop Duffy from dropping several bombshells inside the senate. Harper denies any knowledge of his staff paying Duffy to keep quiet. The opposition is hot on Harper’s tail because he appointed all three of the scrutinized senators.
“None of this holds together,” said the leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair.
Already in trouble because of domestic abuse allegations, Brazeau was once hailed as a bright young Conservative politician. That appears to be in jeopardy, especially after the senate ordered Brazeau to repay $49,000 in housing expenses. As the youngest of those under scrutiny, it’s no surprise he uses Twitter to defend himself. He claims less than $145 are in dispute, and many hailed his speech Tuesday to defend himself.
Another former journalist, Wallin’s expense claims are the subject of another police investigation. Police accuse her of “deceit, falsehood, or other fraudulent means” to scam the senate, primarily as they related to personal items or travel she claimed was official business. It was a letter from a former Wallin staffer who triggered the larger investigation that culminated in Tuesday’s suspension. The letter said her staff and colleagues routinely warned Wallin about her lazy record keeping.
In their defense, the trio says it’s improper for the senate to suspend them before an official investigation has found any wrongdoing.
Separated from the other three because he resigned in August, and he’s a Liberal appointee, Mac Harb is also under investigation over $230,000 of housing expenses he’s since repaid.
In all, the senate has reclaimed more than $520,000 from the four beleaguered politicians. It spent $529,000 on audits. Perhaps that’s why those echoes to abolish the upper chamber are again raging.
“Long before the current scandals which have further marginalized the senate as a useful institution, many were questioning the relevance of an appointed group of men and women, unelected and unaccountable, potentially standing in the way of an elected House of Commons,” said the premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, who is introducing a motion to scrap the senate once and for all.