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Let's vote senators off the island

Survivor-like panel could punish scoundrels

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Mike Duffy

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Mike Duffy

In trying to understand the brouhaha unfolding in the Senate, we professional journalists are forced to ask some difficult questions.

For starters, one of the hardball questions we find ourselves asking is: What the heck is a brouhaha?

Well, according to an online dictionary, it is "a state of social agitation when a minor incident gets out of control, sometimes referred to as an uproar or a hubbub."

OK, that is pretty helpful, but if we are being completely honest, it probably does not go far enough in explaining the spending hubbub that has been gripping the Senate throughout most of the NHL playoffs, which I'm pretty sure will wrap up before Halloween, by which I mean the playoffs, not the spending scandal.

I probably shouldn't tell you this, but, despite being a big-shot newspaper columnist, I personally do not understand what goes on inside the Senate.

The truth is, not many Canadians have a clue about what the Senate does or how it does it.

This is especially true of those Canadians who sit in the Senate, because if we have learned anything from the current "social agitation," it is that senators are the ones least likely to understand the rules of the Senate.

You would think I would be kidding about that last bit but, from what I have been able to glean without paying attention, it is completely true.

The worst part is some senators apparently are not even 100 per cent sure about where they live. Call me a stickler, but I think the first thing they should ask you before they let you become a senator is: Do you know where you live?

If you can't answer the question, you should be forced to wear a brightly coloured sports jacket and give guided tours on Parliament Hill until you meet someone from your hometown who can help you fill out the forms correctly.

Seriously, I have never been asked to sit in the upper chamber -- which is another thing they call the Senate, which is also a bit confusing -- but other than a brief period of time in the 1960s when I wore tie-dye T-shirts and believed in peace, love and understanding, I have been reasonably confident about where I live.

It's possible I'm being a little unfair here. I realize that, on the surface, to the untrained eye, senators appear to be little more than arrogant, upper-class weenies with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement and a penchant for wearing dark suits with blue ties. But if you take a closer look, if you really dig beneath the surface, you will discover that some of them also wear red ties. So they have that going for them.

In an effort to become better-informed about the important duties carried out by senators, I Googled the phrase "fun facts about the Senate," which brought me to a section of the Parliament of Canada website titled "FAQs about the Senate of Canada (junior version)," which is aimed largely at school kids from grades 4 to 9, so it seemed perfect for a crusading columnist such as myself.

The answer to one of the questions -- "Who are senators?" -- was especially enlightening. It explained there are many requirements for a senator, including: "You must... live in the province or territory that you will represent as a senator."

Is that a helpful answer, or what? Hopefully one of the kids in grades 4 to 9 will bring this section to the attention of his or her local senator, because it could clear up a lot of confusion for them.

For the question "What happens in a day in the life of a senator?" the website explains senators are expected to fulfil important obligations, such as, "Go to committee meetings."

Which would be helpful to share with, oh, I don't know, possibly Sen. Mike Duffy, who, according to news reports I have just read, only manages to attend about half of the meetings for the Senate committees on which he sits.

The biggest question is: What are we, as a nation, going to do to fix our beleaguered Senate? As Dave Barry once suggested doing with the U.S. Congress, we could start a reality-TV series wherein we take all of our senators and plop them down on a remote island, possibly in Nunavut, and then force them, one by one, to appear before a panel of torch-wielding tax auditors, or possibly people who understand how credit cards work, such as my wife, and make them defend their expenses.

If the panel approves their expenses, we let them go back to the Senate. If the panel doesn't approve, we'd send them somewhere even more remote.

Like maybe P.E.I., because we hear Mike Duffy has a house there.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2013 A2

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