There are three aspects that I want to consider about the four Canadian senators who are under scrutiny at present over claims for allowances for second residences.
Do senators have any kind of ‘obligation’, ‘duty’ or ‘responsibility’ to the public?
‘Should’ senators have to pay back taxpayers’ money/public funds that they obtained via claims that turn out not to be true or valid? Do those who aspire to the highest public offices in the country demonstrate any kind of ‘obligation’ to the people who pay their salaries, pensions, benefits, perks? Obligation raises related terms such as duty and responsibility. Yet, the language of obligation, duty and responsibility, the ‘should’ as it were, only appears more archaic or obsolete when mentioned in the same sentence as the present government (it is not necessarily restricted to just one party, though the Conservative government appears to be especially resistant to such arguments).
‘Should’ there be a ‘penalty’?
The second aspect is raised by the respective Conservative and Liberal party leaders in Senate, who ‘represent’ two of Canada’s three largest parties, saying in their joint statement that their peers ‘should be required to repay immediately all monies … with interest’.
Returning money that does not belong to you cannot be a ‘penalty’ (i.e. a punishment) since you end up where you started — i.e. without money you didn’t have to begin with (although, perhaps, if you hadn’t been caught…).
The only ‘penalty’ raised here is the interest to be paid on the amount claimed. Will they be charged ‘credit card’ or ‘pay-day loan’ interest rates on the sums they obtained? That would definitely be a ‘penalty’ for most Canadians, but probably not for those so well connected to the corporate and political elites, would it?
These senators, if guilty, have betrayed the public’s trust and further instilled distrust of both the politicians that appointed them as well as Senate itself — and, indeed, of many other democratic institutions, even those unconnected to Senate.
A ‘penalty’ worthy of the meaning of punishment ‘should’ at least mean that the senator is stripped of his/her position, title, salary, benefits, pensions, the way that so many working Canadians in the private sector have been stripped of their jobs, pensions, salaries, wages and benefits because of the same political parties — to which these senators are affiliated — which, when in government, passed laws that enabled corporations to ransack pension plans and let CEOs get paid bonuses, even when their companies were declaring ‘bankruptcy’ (Nortel?). Shouldn’t senators be treated the same as everyone else? Or are they ‘above’ or ‘exempt’ from the law?
The third aspect that one should think about is whether Senate or senators are ‘representative’?
Even though they are ‘unelected’, I would suggest that these senators (all senators in fact) are ‘representative’. Of course, they are not ‘representative’ in terms of being elected by citizens voting in a democratic process. But, they are very much ‘representative’ of the values, attitudes, beliefs, idea(l)s, perspectives of those who appoint them. Indeed, they are representative of the political parties of which they are members, regardless of whether the party rejects them when they are under public scrutiny.
Otherwise, you should ask: ‘Why were they appointed in the first place?’