The auditor-general’s report into spending in Canada’s Senate is very disturbing reading — not because of horrible things done over time to a group of people, as was the case with generations of First Nations children — but because of the ongoing air of indifference to taxpayers and accountable spending.
No less than 30 senators were cited for improper expenditures. While some are taking issue with the A-G’s findings, the standards he believes should govern spending are pretty basic.
A-G Michael Ferguson stated that senators should not be billing for personal trips. They should not be charging for taxis, meals and gifts that have nothing to do with official business, or billing taxpayers for non-Senate business. They should be keeping detailed and accurate records of all their spending, personal and Senate-related. Any claims for reimbursement should be submitted promptly, and posted online so that the taxpayers who ultimately pay the bills can see how their dollars are used.
Senators should not have the last word on what is considered acceptable spending, or action following investigation of their spending. They are paid by taxpayers, and taxpayers expect that those doing public business are as careful with their money as individuals are in day-to-day activities.
The reckless approach to using taxpayers’ dollars by a significant number of senators, and the possibility that criminal charges may be laid against some of those who have been audited, has caused a shift in public opinion. Many people are now backing the NDP pledge to eliminate the Senate.
There is certainly a better case for doing so than ever before. The Supreme Court has basically shut the door on Senate reform, given that it requires unanimity from all provinces.
Abolition also requires unanimity. However, provincial governments could be pressured if there was a national plebiscite question on whether to abolish the Senate, as part of October’s federal election.
Many voices have called for such a vote, and it seems an appropriate way to move forward on this issue.
Such a vote would not be binding in any way. However, if significant majorities in each province backed abolition, there would be significant pressure on both the incoming federal government and provincial governments to agree to abolition by amending the constitution.
That may be the only answer to dealing with this mess.