There is something shameful going on in the Elgin Street courthouse. It is the Mike Duffy trial. But, while it focuses on the suspended senator, it is only one part of a much larger web where honour has been so terribly discounted.
We live our lives on our words of honour. When we sign our names on the bottom of our tax returns, we don’t just pretend we are telling the truth. The same goes for passport applications and our dealings with insurance companies and banks.
In the Senate of Canada, where senators are called honourable, honour is not universal. All you have to do is look at the Duffy trial testimony to realize there is one set of rules for hard-working Canadians and another for some entitled honourable senators. Seemingly, they can do as they please when it comes to public money.
The Duffy defence – that the rules are not clear and there are murky areas left to senators’ discretion – is the same as saying there are no rules. If senators can claim their expenses without having to explain them, detail them or justify them, then you can see how the bank vault is sprung open.
The notion and confusion around where a senator’s principle residence is, or can be, is another shameful example of people enriching themselves at public expense. Duffy seems to have demonstrated, through his able defence lawyer, that – nod, nod, wink, wink – the administration knew he sort of lived in Ottawa, not in Prince Edward Island, but he represented PEI, so it might have, sort of, made sense that his principle residence was in PEI after all.
The one thing that jumped out at you from this Alice-in-Wonderland accounting is the overwhelming feeling that, if Duffy did it, others did it, too, because it was so easy to do. You could just tell from the testimony that this residency question had been asked before and was answered just the way some senators wanted the answer to go.
Greed is easy to define but hard to accept if you are looking at it from the outside. Greed can be a product of it just being too easy to take the money without enough fear of repercussion. It is a matter as simple as those cookies in a cookie jar. When it is easy, any stomach can fill up with cookies pretty quickly.
However, the whole idea that rules are not clear, and that you can get around them, is troublesome, irritating and shameful. It is so unseemly to see some senators take advantage of ambiguity and lack of expected due diligence: this from people who have privileged, prestigious positions in our society; and lifelong pay cheques and pensions to go with those positions.
Rules are supposed to be rules, and it will be interesting to see the trial’s conclusion. If a rule is not clear, does that make someone innocent? Well, it could in a strictly legal sense. But isn’t there more to it than that?
Rules don’t have to be clear for someone to know the difference between right and wrong. Rules don’t have to be clear for someone to know the difference between acting honourably and dishonourably. We Canadians know the difference. We know shame when we see it.
In Duffy’s case, I know the man. I worked with him. I know he likes cookies. Enough said.
But, while this isn’t just about Duffy, there is a question that needs to be repeatedly asked. How is it he got into the Senate and who appointed him, from where, and why?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed him to represent PEI even though he well knew Duffy had lived in Ottawa for his entire adult life. Harper appointed him because the TV star was a great partisan catch and was used that way until his fall from grace. Whatever damage that comes of this to Harper and the Conservatives, the facts are they had it coming to them. It is hard to feel bad for them.
One would expect the rules of the Senate will be altered in the future to reflect more straightforward common sense. Life will go on, one hopes, for the better.
And one last thing: whether he’s found guilty or not guilty, Mike Duffy has already lost.