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Recall mechanism needed to turf wayward senators

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/6/2013 (1538 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CORNWALL, P.E.I. -- With new revelations still coming in the Mike Duffy case, it is becoming more and more evident Canadians both need and deserve a way to recall senators.

While the scandal has sparked calls for Senate reform (this tends to happen every time something negative happens within the Senate), the fact is reform is almost impossible to achieve.

Constitutional reform, as the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords proved, falls somewhere between improbable and impossible. It might be possible, however, to put in place a mechanism that would allow residents of the province the senator represents to sign a petition asking the prime minister to remove them.

It is probably not something that will be used frequently -- Canadians have better things to do than try to recall senators -- but there are cases where it is justified. Certainly, the Duffy case is one of them.

One would have to have lived under a rock not to be familiar with the story. Currently, Duffy finds himself outside the Conservative caucus, after it was revealed a $90,000 repayment of his expense claim came from the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright. Duffy, who now sits as an Independent, is under investigation by the parliamentary ethics commissioner, the Senate committee on internal economy and the RCMP.

It is important to remember that "old Duff," as he likes to call himself, has never denied anything that has been written or broadcast. He was invited to last week's Senate committee on internal economy to explain his side of the story but didn't show up. He maintains he wants a public forum to tell his side of the story. In fact, the Senate committee took the unusual step of holding its meeting in public, partly at Duffy's request.

Everything that has been revealed so far indicates Duffy felt the Canadian treasury was his personal petty-cash fund. He expected to be paid every day for being senator, even when he was campaigning for Conservatives or vacationing.

So how would the recall work? If enough people signed a petition, the seat would be declared vacant and should then be filled through an election. The removed incumbent, of course, would have the right to seek the office. The prime minister should be legally bound to appoint the election winner.

Throughout the last several weeks, Duffy has shared the media spotlight with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Both men are no strangers to the headlines, in part because of their outspoken nature and larger-than-life personas.

The Rob Ford story is also well known. A video that has yet to surface purportedly shows the mayor of Toronto smoking crack cocaine. A number of his staff has either quit or been fired. This is just the latest in a string of scandals to hit the mayor -- everything from allegedly being drunk at fundraisers to having a CBC media personality removed from the property.

There is, however, one major difference between the situations in which the two men find themselves. Ford is elected and the people of Toronto will have a chance to pass judgment on his performance at the polls next year. That is the way things are supposed to work in a democratic system.

By contrast, Duffy (who is now 67) can serve in the Red Chamber until he reaches the magic age of 75. The only way he can be removed is a criminal conviction. Whether the investigation by the Mounties results in criminal charges is a question that won't be answered until further down the road.

If one thing is clear from the Mike Duffy saga, it is the fact the Senate does not have either the will or the ability to police itself. Canadians should have the right to say enough is enough. Again, I don't think any reasonable person could argue Mike Duffy could win an election for any office anywhere in country right now. Why should he have a free pass to a public salary for another eight years?

Don't forget even Duffy has admitted he may have made a mistake. He paid back money he took from the public purse for expenses, claiming the rules were confusing. True, he used somebody else's money, but one would like to think he experienced just a tiny pang of guilt. Then again, maybe not, or he probably would have used his own money.


A lifelong resident of Prince Edward Island, Troy Media syndicated columnist Andy Walker has been a writer and commentator for more than 30 years.


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