Just when you think it can’t get any colder, news breaks from the Senate. Now it’s hot hot hot all over again. What has Mike Duffy done this time? Zooming in on GoogleEarth, beads of sweat are visible on the particularly pronounced forehead of Frank Magazine’s favourite ‘Islander.’ Yet, remarkably, Duffy is not at fault this time. Is it Brazeau? Wallin? No! The Senate’s new bad boy is a fresh face.
As swift as a chinook, although nowhere near as welcome, Conservative Senator Scott Tannas flew from Calgary to Ottawa. He didn’t travel light. Tannas brought his wife, and used public money to pay for both of their business class plane tickets. The cost of the Tannas family trip was over $11 000.
To clarify, Senators are only allowed to expense business class tickets for family in the event of a family reunion, and only if the family has been apart for a considerable amount of time. This is a problem, but it’s also a technicality. In practical terms, the biggest problem is that this Alberta Senator lives in the province he represents. If he abided by the status quo and lived in Ottawa, his plane tickets would be nowhere near as expensive. Yet, for better or worse, Tannas is no fan of the status quo. In fact, he voted to remove the three musketeers from the Senate as punishment for their illegal expenditures. When interviewed, he did his best to explain the difference between his talk and his walk.
“That was a mistake that happened early on, and we’ve corrected it”, he said. He continued, “I think they picked the worst possible month in which to highlight my expenses, and I stand behind them embarrassed”. Canadians can find solace in the fact that Mr. Tannas was “learning to manage his travel better”.
Let’s forgive the man– he was starting a new job. He was probably still in training. Perhaps he had already received his lessons on how to skip votes and ignore his moral compass, but hadn’t yet learned how to properly declare travel expenses. It isn’t like he did this during the Senate expenses scandal or anything. Oh wait, he did. Maybe he was too distracted by his work to realize he should run a low profile in order to avoid scrutiny. Perhaps he was busy learning and sticking to the Conservative script…it is supposed to be quite comprehensive. In any case, he is now a full-blown veteran Senator with all the rights and privileges of public office, so there is no way he will let this happen again.
Naive readers can stop here and breathe a sigh of relief. Those who have been awake for the last 8 years can read on. The CBC reports that Tannas says he will continue to use public money to buy business class plane tickets to Ottawa– not just for himself, but for his wife, too. Apparently the English language takes on a new form in the Senate. Here is a translation guide for those unfamiliar with the local dialect. “That mistake happened early on, and we’ve corrected it” means “I did it once, and I’ll do it again.” “I stand behind [my expenses] embarrassed” means “I’m sorry the media found out.” Finally, when a Senator says he is “learning to manage [his] travel better”, it means that “business class is pretty great.”
Triple-E Reformers will be upset to learn that Tannas is an elected Senator from Alberta. He demonstrates unequivocally that elections are a nicer sounding means to the same dysfunctional end in the Senate. Formally appointed by Stephen Harper, he serves as further proof that this Prime Minister is pretty bad at (at least) this part of his job.
So what can Canadians take to the bank? First, if this is any indication, the Senate scandal is going to grow bigger before it disappears into the history books. Second, there is no quick fix for the Senate problem– incompetent spendthrifts can find their way into politics whether elected, appointed, or hired. Third, critics owe Jim Flaherty an apology. We thought the Finance Minister changed his deficit/surplus projections all the time because he couldn’t do math, but that wasn’t really the problem at all. It seems entirely plausible that Mr. Flaherty kept changing his numbers as he received new reports of Senate spending that he would have to accommodate in his budgets. There are more than 50 Senators on the Conservative side of Parliament’s upper house…just imagine trying to keep up with all the business class plane tickets they buy for themselves, their families, and, the cynic might argue, the rest of the upper crust.