Watch the video above: Manning: Senate scandal ‘an embarrassment to everyone’
CALGARY – Reform party founder and Senate reform champion Preston Manning calls the expense scandal engulfing the upper chamber “an embarrassment to everyone.”
“It’s an embarrassment to the Senate, it’s an embarrassment to the party, it’s an embarrassment to the Parliament, and it ought to be an embarrassment to the press corps,” he said.
“It’s an embarrassment as I said to the party…the prime minister, the Parliament.”
Manning made the comments at a Senate reform symposium at his foundation in Calgary, where the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, Pierre Poilievre, outlined his party’s vision for Senate reform in advance of the Calgary convention this week.
Manning said even if the scandal generates demand for abolition, he thinks it can be used to pressure the Senate to reform itself.
“I think a lot of these Senators don’t realize that this abolition option is real,” he said.
He said his view on what should happen to the senators at the heart of a spending scandal – Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy – is that they should either resign or be removed.
“If subsequent investigations prove that they were innocent of these charges then they should be reinstated. But I think their presence there just discredits themselves and the rest of the senators, the Senate, the Parliament, the party,” he said.
As for the argument that the senators, on the verge of suspension from the upper chamber, aren’t getting due process, Manning said:
“Of course in politics, this idea that you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty is a fiction,” he said.
“If there’s a prima facie case for you’ve done something wrong in the court of public opinion, fuelled by the media, you are guilty until proven innocent. That’s the reality of it. The only condition I’d argue is if after all the investigation it is proved that you were innocent then you should be reinstated and re-compensated.”
Earlier, Poilievre said Senate abolition would be superior to the status quo.
“Two democratically elected chambers would be the ideal for the Canadian public. But certainly abolition would be superior to the status quo,” he said.
He said the Senate is intended to give regions a voice, and in the longer term provide a “less myopic viewpoint” on public policy decisions.
“That is a worthy ideal. However if it is unelected it does not provide any of those benefits. As a result, we are looking at ways to make incremental reforms that do not require convening the general amending procedure of the constitution. If we can achieve those it would be a major step forward towards the ideal of two democratic houses,” he said following a speech.
As he spoke to the room of Conservatives, including former elected senator Bert Brown and former Alberta cabinet minister Ted Morton, he urged patience on the Senate reform issue.
“Patience is not only a virtue in this conversation, but it’s a necessity,” he said.
He said the government has referred the issue, contained in Bill C-7, to the Supreme Court of Canada and it will be heard in the next couple weeks.
The bill seeks to create term limits and elections for senators and asks for guidance on the abolition issue. The federal government has argued that the Senate can be abolished under the general amending procedure of seven out of 10 provinces, with 50 per cent of the population.
“The court will provide us with a how-to guide for Senate aboliton, and Senate reform. Once we have that how-to guide we will ask Canadians how to proceed,” he said.
He said the government will create an “instruction manual” on what the Senate should be. But abolition would most certainly involve the provinces.
“Regardless of one’s views on the Senate reference before the court, everyone agrees that the provinces would have to play a legal role in abolition,” he said.
Meanwhile, Morton voiced the view that some western Conservatives are for the first time siding with abolition in order to recreate the Senate into a legitimate body.
“There were very few conservatives, very few western Conservatives, that would have supported abolition. That’s changed a little bit partly because of the slowness and lack of progress on Senate reform, and partly obviously fuelled by the current scandal,” he said.
“And so there’s some people that are beginning to say well would it make sense to see abolition not as an end game, but as a step wiping the slate clean and then…talk about what an ideal Senate would look like.”