Don Meredith, Stephen Harper and the Senate
By Ewart Walters
Don Meredith is gone. Mike Duffy remains. Pamela Wallin remains. The Senate remains. We too remain – a Black community unsure what all this really means.
Meredith’s belated decision to resign from the Senate of Canada displays a resigned wisdom and perhaps a hint of the humility that had been so painfully missing.
The sex story of the Rev. Senator and the young girl began with an article in the Toronto Star of June 17, 2015. It was – to his shame and chagrin – repeatedly broadcast and published with relish for the better part of two years by several media houses that showed no reticence in bombarding us time and again with all the minute, sordid, dirty details of contemptible Senatorial telephone sex.
Meredith apologized. Two or three times. But still, there was this bristling sense of hubris from the man the Ottawa Citizen once paraded as the best dressed on Parliament Hill.
His oft-repeated apologies could not dent the Senate’s blinkered intent to force him out – an end they have withheld in other cases of Senators who, unlike Meredith, were charged criminally and some found guilty. It is Meredith’s resignation that prevented the Senate from going where it had not gone before and expel him.
But the real story is not this tawdry tale of a middle-aged Senator’s peccadillos with a teenager.
This is not the story of the most powerful man in the world vis-a-vis a stain on a blue dress. (And, despite powerful political opponents who impeached him, that man was not kicked out of the presidency).
The real story is the purpose of the Senate, the misuse of the Senate, why this man got into the Senate and, at the other end, why was there such an unseemly push to expel him, given the treatment of other Senators. It is this inequity, at the end, that gives pause.
The Senate is an offshoot of the British House of Lords. It is a relic of feudal power that only began modifying after the Magna Carta gave power to the common people, us. It is the Commons that represents the people (where power in a democracy is to exist). The Senate remains a chamber of second, sober opinion – a mild restraint on the Commons, if you will.
We should value the Senate in this role. An elected Senate would be a replication of the role of the Commons – to represent the people. But the Senate cannot fulfil its proper role if its members have to be bound by political directives from a Prime Minister.
We must therefore be heartened by the tack taken by then Opposition leader Justin Trudeau to return the Senate to its proper role by removing Senators from his party caucus. It also helps that his government has established a new method of appointing Senators; individuals are invited to apply and are vetted by a committee. It would be a national good achieved if the Conservative Party would follow the Liberals’ tack. So far, there is not the slightest hint of that.
It is clear that the Senate had been used blatantly in recent years for something it was not designed to be – a tool for promoting a political party. This is clear especially from evidence adduced in the trial of Senator Mike Duffy. (Interestingly, while he was in fact suspended from the Senate, there has been no chorus of voices demanding his expulsion).
Indeed, there is a list of Senators and Parliamentarians who have run afoul not only of the regulations but also of the Criminal Code but who have not been in danger of being chased out of the Senate or the Commons. None of these is Black.
Senator Meredith behaved as though he was representing the interests of the Black community; he made statements, gave addresses and issued press releases that support that view. Indeed, the Prime Minister also had that in mind as he sought to build up voter support in Black Ontario communities.
When a Prime Minister ignores community consultation and publications like Who Is Who in Black Canada as he selects a man to do his political will through the Senate, the Black community is cautious in embracing that appointee, as in the case of Meredith. The Black community from which Meredith sprang is conflicted and condemns his behaviour, and also the selection process. The Black community is proud of its good name, and wants to retain and burnish it.
Fortunately, with the new approach to appointments by the Justin Trudeau Liberals, there will be no more Senators attached to the party caucus, and appointments will be made by committee recommendation. It would be a big help if the Conservative Party would follow that lead and de-politicize the Senate.
The action we can now take is to encourage appropriate persons from our community to get engaged in political action as the full citizens we are, and not to let appointments like that slip out of our hands and be left to the determination of someone who does not value us for ourselves.
We also need to let Prime Minister Trudeau know that while his Cabinet reflects the four Employment Equity groups identified in the Multiculturalism Act, we have taken notice that it contains no Blacks. In the same way that he determined to have a Cabinet with 50% women, he should find an appropriate percentage for Blacks and get it done.
But it is not going to happen if we sit on our butts.
About the writer
Ewart Walters is a journalist, author and former diplomat.