Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How Harper Made The Senate More Accountable, Even If Just A Little

If Justin Beiber was in the Canadian Senate it would be the most watched institution in all of government, and, undoubtedly, the most accountable.

For if the Biebs walked down the Ottawan red carpet into that similarly coloured chamber, his every action would be televised, sensationalized, and scrutinized. There wouldn't be a Bieber vote that wouldn't make a headline.

And not only would every single one of his receipts be analyzed by the Toronto Star and every other news agency, there would be over a hundred pictures documenting the young star in racking them up.

Though he would still be appointed and not vulnerable to voters, if Justin Bieber committed a single act of gross misconduct the inevitable public pressure would be far more consequential and retributive than any election. A look at TMZ and the singer's increasing withdrawal from his career and public life can certainly attest to that.

It is this kind of accountability, although of a much lower magnitude, that Stephen Harper has brought to the Senate. In appointing celebrities, by Canadian standards, like Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin to the upper chamber the Prime Minister has brought greater public attention to the much neglected governmental body.

Duffy's celebrity is not only partly responsible for his scandal dominating the headlines, but also for why there's a scandal in the first place. From the moment he was appointed to the Senate, reporters knew stories on him would sell newspapers, more so than any other senator, and indeed most MPs. But in addition to reporters having extra motivation to watch him carefully, so too did the opposition, most notably the Liberals.

Mike Duffy has always held a special place on the hit lists of the Liberal Party for his part in how CTV presented an interview with then Liberal Leader Stephane Dion in the 2008 election. And as senator, Duffy has also been a fundraising juggernaut for the Conservatives which has only enhanced the particularly large partisan bulls-eye on his particularly large back.

And that same incentive for reporters and opposition members to ardently monitor Duffy for mistakes and incessantly draw attention to them once found, is just as applicable to senators Wallin and Brazeau, though to a lesser extent.

Celebrity or notoriety is important for accountability, it makes people interested. Any scandal by Senator Bieber would without a doubt be uncovered, culminating with him most likely resigning after three days of around the clock coverage of his penthouse apartment. But the same can't be said if instead of Bieber or Duffy, the senator's name was Smith or Johnson.

And even if some diligent reporter with nothing better to do had uncovered the improprieties of this more mundane Senator Smith, news editors wouldn't care, and almost every other Canadian wouldn't either; showing conclusively, if only hypothetically, that no interest necessarily entails no accountability.

This is how Stephen Harper has made the Senate more accountable, even if it was just by a little. In appointing senators people want to watch, senators get away with less. And hopefully when they do break the rules, as in the case of Mike Duffy, they leave with nothing at all.

But on a final note, perhaps the greatest accountability for the Senate is that it is appointed. Because so many people are critical of how these officials get their jobs, Senators are on a much shorter leash than their elected parliamentary counterparts. After all, think how careful MPs would act if the House of Commons was constantly threatened with abolishment?

No comments: