On Friday it was reported that Senator Pamela Wallin had made a payment of $100,600.98 covering the remaining amount of expenses she inappropriately claimed as a senator, as well as an additional $13,938.19 in interest charges. To say the she did so begrudgingly is an understatement as she refuses to accept responsibility for using the Canadian taxpayer as her own personal piggy bank. “If mistakes were made, I am responsible for those, but there was never a deliberate attempt to thwart the travel policy that was in place at the time the claims were submitted,” Wallin said in a written statement. Coming from a woman who photocopied an airline ticket so she could claim the expense from both the senate and the University of Guelph, that's some serious chutzpah.
Still, I have to say that I give Pamela Wallin credit, she misspent government money, and even though she's kind of being bullheaded about just owning up to the fact she was wrong, she did - eventually - pay it back. So did Mike Duffy, even if he had to write a IOU to PMO staffers in order to the job done. Spending scandals are nothing new to government, but what struck me about the senate expense scandal is that at least were getting the money back. Can the same be said for most other scandals of this sort?
The thing I find irksome about these spending scandals is that there comes a point when it becomes all about the political brinksmanship, and not about the fact that someone misspent money, and the question why can't we get it back. I understand the political and social need to pin blame, but if you owe a debt to a bank, Canada Revenue, or even a loan shark, are they going to engage in a drawn out argument about the hows and whys you owe them money, or are they just going to demand that you pay them back, and doggedly hound you until they know exactly when they're going to get that money back? I think we know the answer.
Say what you want about the Nigel Wright affair, but the logic behind Stephen Harper's chief of staff writing a cheque for Duffy was sound: the senator got money he shouldn't have, so paying the money back should have made everything right as rain again. I'm not saying that point of view is right, but if the point was that Duffy got money he shouldn't have, and it's then paid back to the person or people who gave it to him, then the matter is essentially closed. Anything else concerning the culture of entitlement and corruption that Duffy and some of his fellow senators have seemed to wallow in is still valid, and if the senate we're a body accountable to an electorate, Duffy could then surrender himself to the judgment of the people. Having said that though, the money has been repaid, so any discussion about further punitive action is a secondary consideration.
But let's look at another issue, the cancellation of two Ontario power plants by the Liberal government that's cost upwards of half-a-billion dollars. Bitter Question Period rhetoric free-for-alls continued this first week of the new session of the Legislature despite the summer break and a series of corrective by-elections last month, and while the opposition is perfect justified, and required, to grill the Liberals on the issue, if not the more general issue of trust, I just have one thing to ask: who's going to payback that $500 million?
Premier Kathleen Wynne has admitted that the move to cancel the plant was political, and even apologized for such,and although we accept her apology, it by no means absolves her and the Liberal Party of wasting money for personal political ends. Still, as the opposition continues to rail about said corruption in Question Period tribunals that tend to be shrill circular shouting matches that go nowhere in particular, no asks who is going to pay back that lost money? Of course, no one's got half a million dollars in the couch cushions waiting for a rainy day, but at least a repayment strategy wouldn't be out of the question.
Of course, the Liberal Party of Ontario doesn't have $500 million lying around, and it's highly unlikely they could get that kind of money together, so the result is that that tab is just going to sit there as bad debt, and the screaming fits at Queen's Park will continue till we eventually get that general election that the politicians seem most desperate to have even though there's no guarantee of victory for anyone. So politicking is the only thing that can be done in this case. And in Ottawa, unless someone's going to seriously undertake senate reform, all that can be done there are half-hearted demands for resignations.
If there was a personal, financial stake for governments and politicians for misspending or mismanaging taxpayers money then maybe we'd get better managers and management. If politicians were forced to pay the cost for bad decisions, and in ways beyond just losing their jobs, then perhaps they wouldn't be so quick to act rashly in order to save them. So while I'd never say that Duffy and Wallin are absolved of their drunken spending, at least they saw the wisdom of paying their debts. It's too bad others can't say the same.