New Government leader in the Senate to be an elected one?

Earlier this month, Mulroney appointee and Harper lieutenant Marjorie LeBreton announced her retirement as Government leader in the Senate. LeBreton, who is 73, will retire from the Senate in two years.

LeBreton has held the government’s line in the Senate through its problems this year; Senator Brazeau is up on sexual assault charges, while he and three other Senators are facing RCMP investigation over allowance expense irregularities.

A government official speaking about LeBreton’s retirement said, “A fully elected cabinet is an important thing right now”. This was taken by most of Ottawa to mean a deprioritization of the Senate as an institution in the executive branch of government.

However, it could also slyly mean that the Prime Minister will appoint an elected Senator to cabinet to be the government’s voice in the Upper Chamber.

Candidates for this position in cabinet include:

  • Scott Tannas
  • Betty Unger
  • Doug Black

Patrick Brazeau is removed from the Conservative caucus

Prime Minister Stephen Harper removed Senator Patrick Brazeau from caucus today after the Senator was taken into Gatineau police custody this morning just after 9am, according to reports.

CTV’s Robert Fife broke the news after an internal memo was circulated by Senator Marjorie LeBreton, the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Politically, Brazeau faces questions regarding his housing allowance and primary residence in Quebec. In what seems to be an unrelated matter, he has now run aground with what appears to be a new set of personal issues.

Statement

 

Date: February 7, 2013

For immediate release

 

STATEMENT BY THE HONOURABLE MARJORY LEBRETON, P.C. ON SENATOR BRAZEAU

Minister LeBreton today issued the following statement in regards to Senator Brazeau:

 

“In light of the serious nature of the events reported today, Senator Brazeau has been removed from the Conservative Caucus. As this is a legal matter, I cannot comment further.”

 

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Déclaration

 

Date : le 7 février 2013

Publication immédiate

 

DÉCLARATION DE L’HONORABLE MARJORY LEBRETON, C.P. AU SUJET DU SÉNATEUR BRAZEAU

 

La ministre LeBreton a publié la déclaration suivante aujourd’hui au sujet du sénateur Brazeau:

 

“Étant donné la gravité des événements rendus publics aujourd’hui, le sénateur Brazeau ne fait plus partie du Caucus conservateur. Comme il s’agit d’une question légale, je ne peux commenter davantage.”

 

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Whistleblower stomped by unaccountable Senate

I cannot believe the news that has been swirling around the city in the past couple of days about Tory staffer Jeffrey Kroeker. Kroeker was reprimanded by a Senate report from the board of Internal Economy for having the audacity to blow the whistle on a junket taken by Senators to Dubai last year.

CTV had the original report of the trip:

Canadian senators waited in an expensive Dubai hotel for seven days after a failed attempt to reach Afghanistan when the military had warned them not to attempt the trip in the first place, CTV News has learned.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny had hoped to take his National Security Committee to Kandahar province for a fact-finding trip, as well as Dubai — a city in the United Arab Emirates that is trying to become a global business hub. Instead, the senators ended up spending seven days in Dubai.

The total hotel bill came to more than $30,000. Plane fare, meals and other expenses were not included.

CTV reported then that it obtained the information from a “leak”.

We now know that the information came from Jeffrey Kroeker, then a staffer for Conservative Senator Marjorie Lebreton.

Kroeker should be commended for bringing the excesses of the Canadian Senate to the attention of the public. Unfortunately Joan Bryden of CP makes an unfortunate comparison to the bureaucrat that was arrested two days ago for leaking the Tory’s Green Plan:

Coming a day after a federal contract employee was hauled off in handcuffs for allegedly leaking a draft of the government’s climate change plan, Liberal Senate Leader Celine Hervieux-Payette questioned how the Tories can sanction keeping Kroeker in the employ of a cabinet minister.

Of course, the situations of Kroeker and the Green Plan leaker Jeff Monaghan are completely different as Monaghan leaked government policy whereas Kroeker made available information that the Senate has actually chosen to keep itself exempt from revealing — yes, the Senate is not accountable to Access to Information requests. With respect to the environment leak, Monaghan broke his oath to keep state secrets. While the cost of junket to Dubai was meant to be kept secret by Kenny and his co-travelers, the information hardly represented any information critical to policy/security or governance. Kroeker simply blew the whistle on Senate excess. While Monaghan was an activist who leaked confidential and secret government policy that he didn’t agree with, Kroeker acted to disseminate information on the extravagant expenses of a handful of senators from the Upper Chamber which has exempted itself from the kind of transparency that keeps other facets of government accountable. Moreover, these expenses were not authorized by the Senate.

We have now learned that the Senate “investigated” Kroeker’s act in total secret and the investigation was conducted by a Senate sub-committee. Kenny himself sits on the board of internal economy, which had oversight over the investigative sub-committee, however Kenny did not think to recuse himself.

Bryden also makes an unfortunate omission in her article. She writes,

The rebuke of Jeffrey Kroeker was contained in a unanimous report of the Senate’s committee on internal economy. The 15-member committee includes four Conservative senators.

The description of a “unanimous report” is misleading here because “unanimous” means that the decision to table the report was unanimous, but the acceptance of the report was hardly the same.

In summary, what do we have here?

Unaccountable senators, part of an unaccountable Senate — the lack of transparency of that body is reflected by its lack of public accounting and disclosure — went on a seven day junket to Dubai at the cost of $30,000 to the Canadian taxpayer. The purpose of the trip was to observe the operations in Kandahar, however, it was expressed to the Senators that this leg of the trip would not happen therefore making the excursion overseas useless. Nevertheless, the senators spent seven days in the hotel, only attended two meetings, and “wrote a report”. However, CTV’s original article includes a quote from Sen. Tommy Banks that the report for the most part was written before the trip was taken. The Vice Chief of Defence Staff in two separate letters confirmed that Senator Kenny was fully aware that they could not get into Afghanistan and as such, should have canceled that leg of the trip. When Kroeker learned what they had done by staying the hotel for over a week, he knew that they had gone beyond the authorized expenses of the Senate and as such, he decided to research the costs. When he saw how galling the expenses were he made the decision to blow the whistle. What the senators did was grossly unfair to taxpayers.

Kroeker should be commended, not condemned.

This seems like politically motivated retribution by a Liberal dominated Senate for the whistleblowing act of a Tory staffer. Why should the cost of a senate junket to Dubai be “secret” from Canadian taxpayers?

Bryden’s article thankfully includes praise from Conservative Senator Terry Stratton:

Senator Terry Stratton, the Tory whip in the upper house, rejected the report’s conclusions. He cast Kroeker as a conscientious staffer who blew the whistle on misuse of taxpayer’s money.

“(The report) makes it very difficult for people to expose the unauthorized expenditure of public money,” Stratton said in a written statement issued late Thursday.

“We should be proud of the stand that Jeffrey Kroeker took. He is a staffer who saw wrong and tried to make it right.”

Unfortunately, the Globe and Mail omitted this praise from its editing of Bryden’s CP article.

Here is a statement, released from Sen. LeBreton’s office just a few hours ago:

Today the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration tabled a report with the Senate in which it called into question activities of former Senate staffer, Jeffrey Kroeker.

The report is the result of an investigation undertaken by the Committee following media reports in October 2006 regarding the alleged misuse of public money on a trip to Dubai by the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, led by Liberal Senator Colin Kenny.

Senator Stratton today rejected the report: “I am extremely disappointed that this Senate Committee has issued this report. I disagree entirely with its conclusion. It makes it very difficult for people to expose the unauthorised expenditure of public money and is contrary to all of the principles in a post-Gomery world.”

In 2006, a group of senators were to take a trip to Kandahar, Afghanistan to visit Canadian troops. This trip was cancelled due to operations before the committee left, but some of the senators decided to proceed to Dubai, in any event, where they stayed, at taxpayers expense for 10 days.

Shortly following the trip, Jeffrey Kroeker discovered that the expenses for the trip to Dubai were not properly authorised and, further, that Senator Kenny, the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence was aware he would be unable to visit the base in Kandahar before he left Ottawa.

When Jeffrey Kroeker became aware of these facts, he blew the whistle, and reported the misuse of public funds to the media.

Today’s report of the Standing Committee is retaliation by a group of Liberal senators against a hard working Senate staffer, who exposed misuse of public funds. Jeffrey Kroeker did what anyone else would do when he saw public money being misused.

“We should be proud of the stand that Jeffrey Kroeker took. He is a staffer who saw wrong and tried to make it right. I am disappointed that this action has been taken,” stated Senator Stratton.

Canada’s New Government has worked hard over the last year to toughen laws that protect whistleblowers. This is exactly the type of staffer that such laws were designed to protect.

“I am very disappointed in this action by the Committee. We need more staffers like Jeffrey Kroeker and we need to support them, not punish them for doing what any honest person would do,” concluded Senator Stratton.

Senator Marjory LeBreton Interview

I was delighted to chat with Senator Marjory LeBreton the other day. I’ve heard from many people that Senator LeBreton is perhaps the nicest and most gracious person that one could ever meet in Ottawa and I’m happy to report that from our first meeting, that she is indeed deserving of those kind words.

Although it’s a great place to start, the senator cannot be summed in full by her kindness; LeBreton has an extensive list of achievements that sets the bar high for anyone in Ottawa’s political class. Lebreton is the leader of the government in the Senate of Canada and was recently appointed by Prime Minister Harper to take on the role of Secretary of State for Seniors. A close friend and confidante of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Senator Lebreton has also taken on the task of being a close and trusted adviser of Prime Minister Harper.

After the interview, she joked that what really clinched her full support of Stephen Harper was when she found out that he was a cat person.

“And you can blog that!”