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Pack the Senate with cheats, then call for reform, then take off for Peru? Good plan!

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper was apparently grinding away at his Conservative caucus yesterday morning about the need for Senate reform.

An interesting strategy, his!

First you pack the place with self-entitled cheats and porkchoppers like Mike "The Puffster" Duffy, then you argue that their misdeeds are proof the institution needs reform!

If nothing else, this suggests Calgary Centre MP Joan Crockatt was sticking right to the party strategy handbook when she suggested in a now-notorious Tweet that her Conservative Party is more ethical than all those other parties because some of its unethical senators resigned from caucus when they got caught.

Of course, this doesn't mean very much when they can be expected to go on reliably voting for the same things as they would as caucus members while try to insinuate their way back to insider status, at least until they reach 75.

Crockatt's risible suggestion prompted general hilarity among the chattering classes nationwide -- and probably would have gone international had it not been for the antics of Toronto Mayor (and future Conservative senator?) Rob Ford, who was already occupying the Canadian Curiosity slot on foreign newscasts.

(By the way, here's a note for the Globe and Mail's editors, if such a thing is still employed by our National Paywalled Website: Unlike Davy Crockett, the late U.S. Congressman of a similar name, it's Joan Crockatt, with an A.)

Let it be said nevertheless that Crockatt might be well advised to follow the example of former avid Tweeter Pat Martin of the New Democratic Opposition and shut down her Twitter account for the duration, or at least hand it over to a reliable aide.

Speaking of reliable aides, that brings us right back to the prime minister's current sea of troubles.

I expect Harper's suggestion at a studiously public caucus meeting yesterday morning that any of his MPs who are just there for reasons of self interest should "leave this room" was mainly greeted with discreetly rolled eyes.

"I know that like me and my family, you are scrupulous about paying personal expenses," Harper is said to have added, presumably with a poker face and to a largely silent room, before quickly jetting off to the much friendlier environs of Peru and Colombia, leaving Question period to underlings.

Harper's problem is that, right now thanks to Senator Duffy and others, the public has taken a fairly jaundiced view of his government, and he knows it. And nowadays who can blame them for a little cynicism, when just a few layers of the onion are peeled back yet the PM refuses to acknowledge any responsibility or even knowledge of what was going on among his closest aides right in his own office?

Instead, quite typically, Harper blamed the NDP and the Liberals for his self-inflicted troubles -- and privately, no doubt, the "liberal" media as well. You know, those well-known social democrats like PostMedia's Andrew Coyne and the editorial Board of the Globe and Mail, for whom l'affaire Puffster has been too much to swallow even with their usual tolerance for bad-tasting Tory potions.

Despite Harper's not-entirely-successful attempts to "distance himself" form his stinky Senate appointments, the PM had very little to say before his hasty departure about the one issue that would have benefitted from the disinfectant properties of a little sunlight.

To wit: the unethical and possibly illegal payment of $90,172 by the former chief of the prime minister's staff, Nigel Wright, to Senator Duffy.

Wright fell on his sword on Sunday morning to protect his prime minister after his effort failed to bail out the Harper Government by quietly paying off Senator Duffy's improperly claimed away-from-home living expenses.

Alas for Harper -- who has replaced Wright with a callow former National Citizens Coalition hack rather like himself who used to walk around wearing a picket sign reading, "Liberal, Tory, Same Old Story"– the issue just won't fade away.

Indeed, the only way to make it go away forever is to fix the Senate. And unfortunately for the PM's "reform" talk, the only way to fix the Senate that will actually work is to abolish it.

Contracts? Contracts? Who cares about contracts?

Meanwhile, out here in Alberta, Premier Alison Redford has vowed to forestall the inevitable and force former Capital Health and Alberta Health Services CFO Allaudin Merali to go to court if he wants to try to get his half-million or so dollars in severance.

Alert readers will recall how Merali's expense account became a cause célèbre and a huge embarrassment to the Redford Government in August 2012 when CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell published the results of a Freedom of Information search revealing "how he spent tens of thousands of dollars on lavish meals at high-end restaurants, bottles of wine, even a phone for his Mercedes Benz car." Merali left the employ of AHS soon thereafter.

Yesterday, Calgary Sun political columnist Rick "The Dinger" Bell quoted Redford as saying, "If people think they are entitled to something in a contract and other people don't think they're entitled to it I guess they can hire lawyers and take legal routes and go to court."

In other words, she said: "We are not going to voluntarily do anything with respect to his severance. … We are not going to simply sit back and take a look at what he may or may not feel he's entitled to without resisting that."

There are just four problems with this plan:

1)    Alberta Health Services signed a contract with the guy that says he's owed the money

2)    Outrageous as his expenses may have seemed, all of them appear to have met the lax the rules for executive expenses in effect at the time he was a Capital Health Region employee

3)    He was rehired and then fired by another employer, AHS, and there's no evidence his expenses at that organization broke any rules

4)    Canada, even the part governed by Redford's Progressive Conservative Party, still has an independent and impartial judiciary

In other words, while Redford's attitude is pretty typical of Alberta's Top Tory Dogs -- that is, the law is for you, not for us -- sooner or later we Alberta taxpayers are going to have to pony the money up to Merali.

Yes, we can understand that by getting caught by the CBC successfully claiming expenses that offended ordinary voters, Merali embarrassed the government and incurred the premier's wrath.

But we can also understand that Alberta taxpayers are not very well served by a legal fight against Merali's claim, which as far as can be seen is entirely legitimate and backed up by a long trail of paper.

All Alberta's premier is doing with this posturing, it is said here, is pouring good money after bad.

Unless, that is, she is slicing the facts extremely finely, since it will be AHS that has to pay up, and not technically "her" -- that is, on the principle of l’état c’est moi, the government of Alberta.

On the other hand, if she is proposing to get involved in the affairs of AHS, that is not necessarily a bad thing either.

She could start by telling AHD Board Chair Stephen Lockwood to stop defending bonus pay for the health agency's remaining executives on the grounds "it would be wrong from many perspectives to not compensate them as per their terms of employment."

You know, completely unlike Merali.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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