The ethics committee responsible for investigating the many facets of the Canadian senate scandals have their hands full this week.
Both the NDP and the Liberals have launched inquiries into the Conservative senate’s wrongdoings. The Liberals hope to have Deloitte senior partners (responsible for the independent audit of senator Mike Duffy’s expenses) brought before the ethics committee to take advantage of their expertise on the continuing conflict of interest occurring on Parliament Hill. The NDP have proposed that the committee launch a more in-depth investigation into former PMO adviser Ben Perrin’s email archive. Perrin’s emails mysteriously disappeared after he left his post, only to reappear soon after. The NDP hopes to prompt discussion into how government correspondence is dealt with and stored, and in doing so encourage an increase in transparent documentation of emails, files, text messages, and other forms of electronic communication.
At the ethics committee meeting Tuesday morning, it was made clear by Parliamentary secretary Paul Calendra that the Conservative majority would not support the NDP’s proposal. The Liberals’ motion did not go to vote, but is likely to be taken up at the next meeting in the new year.
The inquiries proposed by the NDP and the Liberals are very telling, as is the Conservative response to them. The senate scandal obviously goes far deeper than fraudulent expenses, and has shone a light on the need for transparency in Ottawa.
The Liberals’ call for Deloitte’s expertise in the rampant conflict of interest issue speaks to problems related to not only the need to audit senate expenses, but also the way in which those audits are carried out. It has been reported that the audit has not been entirely independent, and the fact that Liberal MPs have called for the senior partners of the company to provide their expertise is perhaps a veiled attempt to probe further into the auditing process itself.
The NDP’s request for a closer examination of the prompt deletion and re-appearance of Ben Perrin’s emails points to a push for increased transparency when it comes to electronic documentation. The Conservatives argued that it is their policy to delete all emails following the resignation of an employee, but it became clear that Perrin’s email archive contained material pertinent to the investigation into Mike Duffy’s expenses. After concerns were raised about the nature of the emails’ deletion, they were mysteriously found. This led many to question the validity of the Conservatives’ statements, and provoked a call for increased transparency from the party.
Though fraudulent expenses may have brought the senate’s questionable actions to the forefront, it is clear that there is a systemic issue stemming from a severe lack of transparency on the part of the Conservative government. The party claimed that they were unaware of the discretions of Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, and others, but appeared to be not only aware of them, but working to hide evidence. Deleting emails that might have implicated them and blocking a request to further investigate the nature of the auditing procedure suggests that the ethical problems in the party run deep. The Conservatives should be held accountable by the ethics committee, and hopefully inquiries such as those posed this week by the Liberals and the NDP will promote discussion and increase transparency and ethical best practice on Parliament Hill.