The Senate grabs headlines, while the Tory agenda marches on

Lana Payne
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Expense-scandal senators do not exactly cut sympathetic figures; that’s an understatement given the hot mess that is the red chamber.

Canadians are shaking their heads and many are steaming over the antics of Mike Duffy, Pam Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.

Entitled to their entitlements is one thing. A coverup is quite another. It is the coverup that has Canadians more upset.

According to a recent poll conducted by Ekos Research for iPolitics, only 18 per cent of Canadians believe the prime minister is telling the truth over the Senate scandal, while 40 per cent believe Mike Duffy’s version of events and the role the prime minister played in it.

It is a serious problem for Mr. Harper, the most serious test to his leadership and his credibility among his own base since he became prime minister.

After all, Mr. Harper appointed these senators. He relied on them to campaign and fundraise for him while they were, incidentally, collecting their Senate paycheques. He pumped them up. He defended them. They were his soldiers. And now he wants to rewrite that history. Cut them loose. Blame them and his former trusted chief of staff, Nigel Wright, for the entire mess.

The problem: this is a prime minister known for being the ultimate micromanager. He can’t get away with such an absurd narrative, that he knew nothing.

Mr. Harper clearly hoped that by cutting loose the infamous three senators (including attempting to cut off their Senate pay) while also playing judge and jury, would help him save face; that his bullying ways would win out once again. After all, they have in the past.

This was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s big gamble, a gamble that has come up against a basic Canadian value: fairness. No matter the perceived crime, most Canadians believe people deserve due process, a fair hearing.

The other problem? Mr. Harper forgot the golden rule of politics: never create desperate enemies of people who have secrets to tell. For Mr. Harper, this is also a story with more legs than a centipede.

You would think that this scandal would temper the Harper government’s tendencies to ruthlessly set out to destroy those who oppose their vision of the world. You’d think he would want to build some goodwill with Canadians. Instead, it is full speed ahead. No goodwill building for this prime minister.

Instead, despite everything, his government continues, for example, to attack union and workers’ rights. It continues to govern with undemocratic omnibus bills. It continues on with the very autocratic behaviour that is at the root of all of its problems, learning nothing, repeating their bullying behaviour over and over again.

While Mr. Harper attempts to pull himself out of the ever-thickening mud, his government, in its 300-page omnibus budget bill, has attacked, of all things, workers’ safety, turning back the clock on decades of effort between workers and employers.

It is a cowardly action that waters down the right of workers to refuse unsafe work. It is part of a bigger deregulation strategy by the Conservative government, including allowing employers to police their own safety.

Self-regulated safety does not work.

The planet’s soil has been soaked with the blood of workers killed

in workplaces because of deregulated safety or a lack of safety laws, enforcement or education.

At a time when Canadians are reeling from a series of tragic events, including train derailments, the Harper government chooses to water down worker safety rights. This is almost unbelievable, even for a government so mired in its own ideology of deregulation.

The latest omnibus bill, C-4, also attacks a piece of legislation governing federal public sector collective bargaining and labour rights, including the right to strike.

The proposed changes to legislation also allow the government, through Treasury Board President Tony Clement, the ability to arbitrarily declare essential employees, eliminating their right to strike. These matters are currently decided by an independent labour board, not the employer.

These are major and regressive changes to longstanding labour relations legislation, laws that are being gutted through clauses in this huge omnibus budget bill that will in no way be vetted and debated properly as a democracy should require.

If any of those changes were good, why is the government hiding them in such a massive piece of legislation like they have done with environmental laws in the past? Such proposals should be properly considered, proposed, reviewed and debated. That is democracy, except not Harper’s style.

This is the latest in a very long list of attacks on unions and workers’ rights. Harper has been relentless in this course to weaken working people’s organizations and workers’ workplace rights.

And given the attention, and rightfully so, being given to the Senate scandal, we must also be aware that the government continues to govern, and it is busy delivering more nastiness even from the mud it’s currently mired in.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for

 Unifor. She can be reached by email at

Twitter: @lanampayne

Her column returns Nov. 16.

Organizations: Tory, Ekos Research, Treasury Board

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Recent comments

  • Donald
    November 03, 2013 - 12:44

    Ms. Payne has written a good summary of what Canadians are being subjected to under the one man rule of Stephen Harper. Whatever may be wrong about unions, they are what rescued this country's workers from virtual slavery. Those bashing unions would seem to be quite willing to send people back to the 12 hour days, 6 day weeks in dangerous and unhealthy conditions that were common up to 100 years ago or less in various western countries. Enabled by many in our own corporate boardrooms, these circumstances and worse are still the rule in third world sweat shops.

  • Jay
    November 03, 2013 - 10:30

    This clamour for the heads of our famous Senate trio is small potatoes to the entire gov't. There is no one group or person that will fix these problems in the Senate. If we go outside the Senate to fix it, we're catering to the unelected to fix the unelected, and I don't want that. The solution is, if there is any honour in the upper House, then they would drop their party politics, and delve into who and what they really are. I'm asking a lot of these people but it wouldn't be that hard. It's up to you, Senators!!

  • Richard Brassard
    November 03, 2013 - 10:19

    I am totally disgusted with the crooked senators, they should be in jail. Anyone else would be behind bars....

  • John Magel
    November 03, 2013 - 01:59

    I have never been so ashamed to be a Canadian until now. The Federal government is in total meltdown with Prime Minister Harper as the dictator and know-it-all. The Senate Scandal is a disgrace. We are the laughing stock of the world!! Same,shame,shame.

  • azaelea
    November 03, 2013 - 00:56

    Harper is all for gutting the rights of ALL canadians except his big business buddies . He's just spoiling to shove his NeoCon agenda onto all of us who don't subscribe to his Neoon agenda. What a pig!

  • Timothy Zak
    November 02, 2013 - 22:15

    MikeSr and Bruno Brown have nailed it. This is a story about the moral hazard created by Senate privilege. Fire them all, audit them, and jail those responsible for wrong doing. Don't give them a microphone.

  • Paul
    November 02, 2013 - 19:57

    What a pile of cap! Unions are today, one of the most undemocratic institutions around..

  • mike
    November 02, 2013 - 14:36

    The cons have no consideration for anyone else , we're in charge everyone else must be wrong, so just shut -up and bear it. Most people dislike being told what to do and how to do it, bullies

  • MikeSr
    November 02, 2013 - 09:24

    Just another back of the hand; drive by smear; setting a red herring; and all the other means a professional journalist pulls out when directed to run an agenda item. This is the greatest challenge the PM has had to face. Duh! Cheers;

    • Bruno Brown
      November 02, 2013 - 15:19

      I think at the time of confederation,a senate was a good idea that has long been a thorn to Canadians,Serves no purpose other than a political plum,we have senators in sitting since 1984,29 years of money for nothing.I am 73 and would vote to eliminate all 104 of them.Some have dementia,others lived in Mexico, hell one of'em is in jail, I think all senators should be audited before expulsion.!!!!