Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Expense issue symptom of what ails Senate

  • Print

OTTAWA — Sometimes, one wonders what Queen Victoria might think.

Perched as she is over the Speaker’s chair in the Senate chamber, the monarch may well be glad in this case that she’s made of marble.

Related Items

Trying to sort out the quagmire the Senate has become could stymie even the most stoic of monarchs.

On the surface, the Senate appears to be a dignified place. Its bright royal red carpet, wood panelling, the thrones at the front for the Queen, stone arches and coffered ceiling all give rise to the thought this chamber is where important things happen.

It is hard to find a time in recent memory when the Senate made any major changes to anything coming out of the House of Commons. The only time in recent memory a House bill was defeated was when the NDP managed to pass a climate-change bill in the minority Parliament and the upper chamber voted it down without a single minute of debate.

The Senate has truly become a soft landing spot for failed candidates, party fundraisers, political aides and even friends of whichever party or prime minister is in power. It is a practice used gratuitously by both Liberal and Conservative governments alike.

Now we have reason to question whether some senators live in the province or territory they represent, or claim tens of thousands of dollars in housing allowances each year for secondary residences that seem to exist only on paper.

Neighbours of Liberal Mac Harb and Conservative Mike Duffy barely, if ever, see them at their reported primary residences. Duffy still has an Ontario health card and still votes in Ontario elections.

Nunavut Sen. Dennis Patterson seems to live in B.C. The only property he owns in Nunavut has been rented out.

The allegations have led the NDP — which doesn’t have a single senator in the upper chamber — to develop a new catchphrase for the Senate: "Unelected, unaccountable and under investigation."

Given all of this, it’s no wonder the clamour for change from Canadians and politicians alike is hitting feverish pitches.

The trouble is, it might be easier to prove Santa Claus exists than to bring real change to the upper chamber. Any major changes to the Senate require a constitutional amendment, which means every province must agree.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper — who ran on a platform to reform the Senate, but has ended up being as bad as any of his predecessors for making patronage appointments to the upper chamber — hopes he can make changes such as introducing term limits and electing senators without a constitutional change. He recently asked the Supreme Court to decide if those can happen, and late last week Harper asked the court to fast-track that review.

Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal is asking for a referendum to determine if the Senate should be eliminated — an idea supported by at least one in three Canadians, according to recent polls.

The Senate does do some good work. Some of its studies are far more in-depth and less partisan than those undertaken by their colleagues on the other side of Centre Block. A recent study by the Senate finance committee helped shed some light on why retail prices in Canada are often so much higher than in the United States, even though the dollar is usually at or above par now.

In 2011, the Senate aboriginal peoples committee produced a detailed report about the state of education on First Nations communities, which should serve as the basis for creating standards for education on reserves across Canada.

But often whatever the Senate produces is tossed onto a dusty shelf by the government.

The latest questions about senators add fuel to the negative thoughts most Canadians have toward the Senate.

Thankfully, the government came to its senses quickly and decided the audits of Duffy, Harb, Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin, and any others yet to come, will be made public.

But whatever the findings, the expense claims are really a minor symptom of all that ails the Senate.

Canadians spend more than $100 million each year to run the Senate, money that would be well-spent on a chamber that truly did give sober second thought to budgets and proposed new laws.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Trouba talks about injury and potential for Jets

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  070527 The 21st Annual Teddy Bears' Picnic at Assiniboine Park. The Orlan Ukrainian Dancers perform on stage.
  • A water lily in full bloom is reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google