Senator foolish, colleagues unprincipled
There’s a stench of parliamentary fear surrounding the expulsion of Sen. Patrick Brazeau from the Upper Chamber.
Last week, the young senator from Quebec was charged with domestic and sexual assault. Days later, he was summarily kicked out of the governing Conservative parliamentary caucus.
On Tuesday, fellow senators voted unanimously to put him on a leave of absence.
The effect of that action barely hurt Brazeau in the wallet.
He loses his privileges and access to the Senate and money for expenses.
He still gets to keep his $130,000-a-year salary.
The Senate expulsion vote was grandstanding.
There was not a minute of discussion on the motion before it was put to a vote.
Brazeau was the only senator to vote against it.
He comes from Maniwaki Que., an hour’s drive north of Ottawa and made his political mark early. He was national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples from early 2006 until taking his Senate seat in 2009 at the age of 34.
Until this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had 14 Quebec Conservatives in the Senate. That’s equal to his total from Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined.
It’s also almost three times the number of Quebec Conservative MPs in the House of Commons.
Only five Tories were elected in Quebec’s 75 ridings in the last election, down from 14 in 2008.
Harper appointed Brazeau to the Senate just after that election.
He looked like the kind of bright young guy who could help the prime minister turn around his dismal fortunes in Quebec, but he had almost none of the life experiences that we expect from senators.
There wasn’t much sober prime ministerial thought then.
It was a pure political play for electoral advantage down the road — the kind of coarse tactic that has become Harper’s touchstone.
Our dismal feelings about the Senate are often warranted.
It has been called a taskless thanks for political insiders and bagmen.
The Senate, however, has many, diligent men and women who work hard in virtual anonymity to create and improve life for Canadians.
They are rarely seen or heard in the media, except when the Senate moves to block legislation, or when a senator finds himself (it’s almost always men) in the crosshairs for dubious behavior.
If Brazeau had a deep sense of decency about protecting the reputation of his workplace, he would have voluntarily stepped aside this week until the criminal charges against him were adjudicated.
That tells you something about his character.
But the instantaneous and unanimous vote by the other senators tells you something about their mindset too, and it’s not pretty.
They are implying Brazeau is guilty before he has had his day in court.
Senators are appointed to create and uphold Canadian laws.
When it comes to criminal law, nothing is more sacred than the principle that every Canadian is innocent until proven guilty.
That value is the bedrock of our justice system.
Senators who voted to kick Brazeau out this week tossed it away recklessly.
It was pure grandstanding and it was done to protect their sometimes-shabby reputation.
Over the years, many federal legislators have found themselves charged with unlawful acts. The smart and principled ones step down temporarily until justice runs its course.
If Canadian senators was not already seen in such a gloomy public light, they would not have deemed this week’s theatrics necessary.
If senators were elected to exclusively serve the interests of Canadians, I doubt that it would have unfolded this way.
They put image before principle.
Without a doubt, Brazeau did the wrong thing by declining to voluntarily and temporarily step aside.
The rest of the senators did another bad thing by expelling him before he had his day in court, and a worse thing by claiming their action was taken to preserve “the dignity of the Senate.”
How about putting rule of law before political optics and perceptions of false dignity?
Joe McLaughlin is the retired managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.