Since their defeat in the October 2015 election and the announced departure of leader Stephen Harper, federal Conservatives have increasingly moderated their stance on a number of issues. Regrets were expressed about the party’s emphasis on identity politics and its position on Islamic face coverings, homegrown terrorism, and – especially – the over the top hotline for reporting barbaric cultural practices. The recently concluded Conservative party conference in Vancouver saw the party reverse its stand against gay marriage and agree to decriminalize marijuana usage.
Too Good to Last
We knew it couldn’t last forever. For six months the House of Commons had mostly exhibited an atmosphere of civility and good will. Debate had been respectful and cordial much of the time. Tempers had been fraying in recent weeks, particularly as the Liberal government pushed ahead on several fronts, including assisted dying legislation and electoral reform. The former posed a particular challenge because of the June 6 deadline for a legislated response imposed by the Supreme Court. The government tried extending sittings and imposing closure on stages of the debate in an attempt to meet this deadline. The opposition parties pushed back and claimed that the Liberals were showing the kind of contempt for Parliament that they had so criticized in former Prime Minister Harper.
The dust has now settled on the Mike Duffy trial and his acquittal on all 31 charges. While the verdict was positive for Duffy, it did nothing to dissipate the dark cloud hanging over the Senate. He was found not guilty, it seems, primarily because the Senate didn’t have any rules governing certain questionable behaviour or had vague, unclear rules, and because his questionable behaviour was consistent with common Senate practices.
While the Senate has apparently taken some steps to tighten up its rules, I would suggest that the simplest solution is to align the rules with the Senate roles. The discussion that follows will focus on travel expenses and housing allowances, since these were two of the major issues highlighted by the Duffy trial.
C. Richard Tindal, Ph.D is a retired Professor of Government. He taught for 30 years at St. Lawrence College, Kingston and was an occasional Visiting Professor at Queen's University. He has also written and consulted extensively about government.