Press-Republican

Columns

May 31, 2013

Trouble in Canada's upper house

A few years back, when Mike Duffy was a respected TV journalist and faithful habitué of the Parliamentary press club bar and office party circuit, he was called “senator” because of his (what we thought to be) joking desire to be named to the chamber of “sober second thought” — a description provided by Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, a notorious boozer.

Duffy’s whimsical wish came true in December 2008, a little more than two months after a controversial bit of journalism on his part, which analysts say helped Conservative leader Stephen Harper get elected prime minister.

Duffy, at the time the host of a politics program on a conservative-leaning network, aired an interview with then-Liberal party leader Stephane Dion in which Dion asked for clarification of a question posed by another interviewer from the same network. Duffy played it as an example of Dion’s faulty grasp of English.

The exchange aired days before the federal election, which polls showed to be a close race to that point.

The Canadian media ethics panel later ruled that the network in question and Duffy in particular had breached journalistic ethics.

Regardless, the affable Duffy reaped his reward and as a newly minted senator became an eager asset on the Conservative fundraising tour. But lately Duffy has been somewhat of a liability to Harper and the Conservatives, to the point that there is a renewed call to do something, anything, about Canada’s federal upper house.

American readers, accustomed to the immense power of the Senate, might have some difficulty grasping the function, let alone the continued existence of the Senate of Canada, which sits in a rather impressively ornate red-upholstered chamber.

The key distinction is that while the 100 American senators must seek election every six years, Canadian senators are appointed at the pleasure of the prime minister and sit, virtually untouchable, until forced into retirement at age 75 (it used to be life.)

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