Photo/Wikimedia Commons via Makaristos []

Moral awakening

  • June 18, 2015

Corruption is a child of greed and vanity. It tempts those blinded by arrogance and seduced by money. It is found across society, in business, sports, the Church, but particularly in politics.

Often, the corrupt are “men of good will but bad habits,” says Pope Francis.  They care mostly for themselves — they “see and hear nothing else” — and they are forever dodging the truth about their miscreant behaviour.

Which brings us to the Canadian Senate.

In a damning but sadly unsurprising report released June 9 auditor general Michael Ferguson has detailed abuse of the public purse by 30 past and current senators who allegedly made bogus claims totalling almost $1 million over the two-year audit period. Nine cases were referred to the RCMP. Compared to a FIFA soccer scandal, the amounts are small — the shameless 30 pocketed an average of about $16,500 per year — but the issue of unethical and possibly illegal behaviour by so-called pillars of society is large.

The auditor concluded that the Senate must overhaul how it does business. He’s right. Leaving the chequebook with senators is like entrusting the cookie jar with schoolchildren. The disgraced Senate needs independent oversight to impose integrity and transparency. The auditor calls this a “transformational change” in financial management.  But what really is needed is a transformational rebirth of ethics and morality across public affairs. The Senate is a good place to start.

Flimflamming a million dollars is scandalous but this shoddy business is particularly sad because the Senate could be so much more. Ideally, it would be an institution that shines with intelligence and integrity reflected in honourable, hand-picked men and women who ensure the government respects public morality and Canadian values. John A. Macdonald called this sober second thought. Today it might be called a national conscience.

The Senate should be inflexibly dedicated to advancing the common good. Yet, if political life is indeed among the highest forms of charity, as Pope Francis has said, the Senate has failed.

Senators should not require a handbook of spending rules to define right and wrong. Surely, that is obvious. They should innately exemplify honour, dignity and wisdom. Instead, to its shame, the upper house is perceived as a hovel of self interest and entitlement. That is the real tragedy. As an institution, the Senate is thoroughly discredited. It is disconnected from the people whose lives it is pledged to enrich.

Senate reform is necessary but no amount of regulatory change will fix the real problem. Pope Francis once succinctly said, “corruption stinks.” With the Senate, new rules may act like deodorizer to clear the air but eradicating corruption requires a moral awakening. Unfortunately, that doesn’t come in a spray can.

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