The Senate rules say that “all personal, sharp or taxing speeches are unparliamentary and out of order.”
That’s probably why all the snide and vexatious comments that have been made recently about my pal Michael Duffy are made outside the Red Chamber: No one in that august place has the guts to make them there — at least not directly to his happy face.
It saddens me, too, that members of what was once our common craft have joined the hue and cry against Duffy and Pamela Wallin, both former “journalists,” trying to run two or more households in addition to their Senate duties and trying to keep track of the cost of having to fly between them as those duties require.
Do the minions of today’s media believe that having some of their number cross to the other side, to take instead of to ask questions, somehow demeans the so-called fifth estate? Have those of us who have waited by our telephones for a summons from the Prime Minister’s Office in vain had our perspectives clouded by jealousy?
I knew Duffy when he was a radio reporter with a stopwatch around his neck, a shadow of his future self. At the end of an impressive career, he found himself in a place where respect is expected and honour pretty well taken for granted.
A lot of the Senate rules were written long before airplanes began to foul the air and “resident” needed defining. If today those rules appear rather open-ended, it’s natural that parliamentarians with weighty affairs of state on their minds might stumble through the opening.
Certain factions would use this minor issue to reinforce their arguments that the Senate should be abolished or at least “reformed” by trying to turn it into something it was designed deliberately not to be.
Making it an elected body would encourage senators to flex their tired legislative muscles. Sir John A. Macdonald insisted it should be “a regulating body, calmly considering the legislation initiated by the popular branch,” but never opposing “the deliberate and understood wishes of the people” as expressed by the Commons.
In any case, as experience has shown, abolishing or changing the Senate is a constitutional bolus impossible to swallow. It seems to me, then, that the key to making it fulfil its function is to concentrate on filling it with effective members.
I don’t know whether heart surgeons or media stars come ready-equipped to give “advice and assistance in all weighty and arduous affairs” concerning “the State and Defence of Canada,” as the senators’ summons put it.
Captains of industry, too, may need considerable on-the-job training to deal with such things as rural poverty and soil erosion. Yet, somehow, Senate committees have produced detailed reports on these and other issues that bear re-reading today and, often, are more forward-looking than those produced by Parliament’s “popular branch.”
The Senate has a particular constitutional role, but it is not so independent that it has no political role, any more than the courts have.
Senators of political backgrounds — federal, provincial or municipal — have the experience needed to function as part of government or in opposition to it.
Failed candidates or former ministers, bagmen or directors of political campaigns know as others may not how the political pulse of the nation beats, and they belong in party caucuses where few have time for sober second thought.
A summons to the Senate too often is a reward for political service rather than a call to public service.
The Senate also plays a representative role, a geographical one, obviously, but also one that can represent minorities which the popular vote can overlook.
I hope the growing representation of those with experience in the news media heralds a democratization of Senate appointments. It’s still overrun with lawyers and business tycoons. There was a time when bank directors saw nothing wrong with membership on the Senate banking committee because they considered they were there to represent the banking interests.
The place could use a few barbers and taxi drivers whose sense of the public political mood is legend — as Mike Duffy’s was before his elevation.
© Copyright 2013