Some men will do anything for a pretty woman. And some women will do anything for a handsome man, but that isn’t relevant here because Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenue (PHB) isn’t a particularly handsome man. He’s a man who did something stupid for a woman. Now he has to pay the price!
Like several notorious Senators, PHB abused his position. It seems the nice old man, pictured below with his daughter and what appears to be a cardboard cutout of the Prime Minister, developed a fondness for a particular woman: Isabelle Lapointe.
Correction: The woman in that photo is not PHB’s daughter, but rather Isabelle Lapointe.
In fact, he was so fond of her that he successfully courted her, and then twice renewed her contract to work in his office. While many males over 65 may have applauded the Senator for his apparent virility, the rest of Canada was a little less impressed by his behaviour. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, the biggest issue was not the fact that he had twice hired his lover, but instead that he had continued to file expense claims for his old residence even while he was living with Lapointe in Gatineau, QC. Nothing riles the public like a spending scandal.
When news broke of their affair, PHB and Lapointe called it off. After an ensuing investigation, a Senate committee concluded that PHB had “at best, a very superficial knowledge of the rules with respect to his responsibilities as a manager,” and that, “He had the perception that the nature of a political institution meant that different standards applied as opposed to what is applicable in a public sector organization.” Whatever gave him that idea? In any case, it seemed that the Committee’s opinion was that none of this was really his fault. It was just a difference of opinion about what it meant to be a Senator, and PHB happened to fall on that side that believed it was a “do as/whomever you please” position. Surely no one would hold that against him in, say, a court of law. Senate offences rarely make it that far anyway.
This week, the Senate Conflict of Interest Committee finally handed down a punishment. Was PHB charged with unethical use of public funds? Abusing a position of authority? Was he charged with one count of cradle robbing and sentenced to date women his own age? No, not quite. He was charged with breaching the Conflict of Interest Code for not “remedying a real or apparent conflict of interest” that negatively impacted public confidence in Senators and the Senate. Due to the particularly heinous nature of the crime, the sentencing was harsh. PHB was ordered to apologize to his colleagues, and to take a course that would teach him the management skills he should have had before he assumed office. Just like that, justice was served.
This sentencing supports several conclusions. First, based on the Senate Conflict of Interest Committee’s claim that PHB’s actions eroded public confidence in Senators and the Senate, it seems the Committee held the bizarre belief that any such trust existed at all. Second, based on the decision to force PHB to apologize to his colleagues, it seems that the Committee believed that the best way to restore public confidence was with an apology that the public never heard. Third, the Committee thought that it is ok for Senators to be ill-equipped for their jobs, so long as they are willing to take a course after committing an offense that resulted from being ill-equipped in the first place. Finally, then, after reviewing the sum of this evidence in a general context, it is clear that the Senate functions just like the average Canadian workplace.
Forgetting the Senate for a moment, Canadians have to appreciate how lucky PHB really is. He put himself in a tight place, but he pulled out quickly enough that he was able to avoid the most serious consequences of his behaviour. Science says that works ~80% of the time. Ok, so maybe he wasn’t that lucky. But really, wasn’t he? How many older men get to be in that position? And in that position? It’s amazing how well this worked out for him, especially considering that he is a Senator at this point in Canadian history. It’s almost unbelievable. Indeed, attempting to rationalize the way Senate works is like voting for the NDP and hoping for real change. You can try, try, and try again, but it isn’t going to happen. So, instead, try to understand PHB by employing a familiar Conservative metaphor about parliamentary processes: the sports team. As a Senator in charge of an office, PHB was essentially quarterback of a high school football team. It didn’t matter that he sucked, that the team sucked, or that the object of his desire was marginally older than a high school student…he wanted to make the most of the best days of his life while he had the chance. Thanks to the Senate’s culture of obscenity, he was able to do just that.