The spring of hope may be just around the corner, but February is still crotch-deep in the winter of despair. But if the never-ending parade of winter storms is leaving you out in the cold, don’t worry: there’s enough hot air being blown around in the news this month to make St. John’s feel downright tropical.
So, anyways, the Ottawa senators are a giant mess this year, and that’s not a hockey jab. For those of you unfamiliar with the subtle machinations of the archaic mess we call a federal government, the Senate is an unelected body of patronage appointments meant to provide “sober second thought” to legislation coming out of the House of Commons (which was presumably really important back when Canada’s first few governments were run by raging drunks). While creating a class of pseudo-aristocrats to put a check on democracy fit right in with the Victorian era, this argument feels a little less compelling now that we’re into the second decade of the 21st Century. What little dignity the Red Chamber has as a grand historic institution is also being squandered by recent embarrassing behaviour from many senators themselves. A cadre of senators led by former CTV pundit Mike Duffy have been busted for claiming tens of thousands of dollars a year in living expenses for a ‘second home’ in Ottawa despite already living in the national capital for decades. To make matters worse, another one of those double-dippers—young Patrick Brazeau—was recently arrested on charges of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Both the NDP and the Conservatives have expressed interest in tackling the Senate problem for years, and the recent surge of scandal has started tipping popular opinion away from fixing it and towards just scrapping it altogether. Abolition is certainly tempting. The idea of keeping the patronage status quo is nothing short of depressing (despite what Justin Trudeau might tell you), but the cure isn’t immediately much less painful. Reform would likely trigger a Constitutional crisis (the best kind of crisis!) where we’re forced to get all the provinces to agree over serious arguments like seat proportions, and good luck getting Ontario, Quebec, the West and the Atlantic to agree on who gets more power in the Senate. There is also the nightmare scenario that two different political parties might separately control the Commons and the Senate at the same time and that nothing would ever get done (although some wonks find that kinky). Getting rid of the Senate entirely would certainly be easier, but then we have other problems: like, say, the Prime Minister in a majority government having even fewer checks on their already almost limitless power. Even if everyone starts electing senators like they do in Alberta, who is ultimately appointed is still the Prime Minister’s decision: and let’s be honest, can you imagine anyone appointing a Bloc Senator?
Back home on the Island, of course, our democratically elected officials are giving us grief with a distinctly 21st century problem: it turns out the provincial government has a high-school calibre inferiority complex. Public luminary Paul Lane was caught with his proverbial pants down after a series of leaked Blackberry messages revealed that, despite his earlier claims to the contrary on VOCM, he took a leading role in pressuring Tory MHAs and staffers to actively cook online opinion polls to make the government seem more popular. Partisans are not only instructed how to vote in each poll, but are also issued with instructions on how to game the websites and vote multiple times to ensure that the party line wins by a landslide. For about a week after this broke, Lane was uncharacteristically silent and refused comment, so Kathy Dunderdale came to his rescue by shrugging it off and equated this with phone-bombing votes for Rex Goudie on Canadian Idol. In fact, this whole thing is really a non-story and we should all just move on to caring about more pressing things, like a looming multi-billion dollar budget deficit, a public sector hiring freeze, rumours of layoffs, and impending labour agitation. There are a bunch of serious things to get mad at the government about, so we shouldn’t make mountains out of molehills.
Fair enough. But if these polls really are irrelevant, it does raise the question as to why government members are so emotionally invested in manipulating the results. Tory stalwarts are spending an awful lot of time and effort jigging polls whose results they allegedly ignore, which suggests more or less the opposite of what the Premier claims—that it’s a weirdly big deal. Other recently-released media documents reveal a communications office dedicated to meticulously recording political criticism on Twitter, suggesting a government that is seriously distressed about its own public image. You can’t publicly shrug off criticism and then anxiously order your underlings to hit ‘refresh’ a hundred times on VOCM’s Question of the Day without generating the kind of cognitive dissonance that hints at unresolved self-image issues—especially considering that these are non-scientific polls designed largely for entertainment purposes. This might not be the corruption fiasco that Con O’Brien & The Known Critics have been hoping to turn into a platinum hit, but it does underscore just how much the Tories are concerned more with style above substance.
Speaking of substance, I’d like to end with a shout-out for Brad Cabana’s Constitutional Challenge against Muskrat Falls as it finally gets underway at the courthouse in St. John’s. It’s super important to never give up on what you believe in, no matter how many people rudely insist it has questionable legal grounding or that it is a waste of the court’s time and resources. Dare to dream the impossible dream. The only peace is in the struggle, brother: rock on.