Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Dirty, but criminal?

It is unconsionable that Paul Martin or one of his cabinet ministers would think of altering the outcome of a confidence vote in the House by offering MPs Senate or diplomatic positions. Yesterday the characterisation of these supposed actions went from just "underhanded" to "criminal". (See Wells and Coyne) I, therefore, offer a short history of MPs who have left parliament for greener pastures whose gates were opened by the PM:

I've gone back thirty years (starting with the parliament that was elected in 1974) and found six examples of MPs who were appointed directly from the House to other governmnet positions. Peter Stollery, and Stanley Haidasz were both appointed to the Senate by fellow Liberal Pierre Trudeau. Erik Nielsen (PC) was made chairman of the National Transportation Agency by Mulroney and Gerard Pelletier (LIB) was made Ambassador to France by Trudeau. So far only friendly-party appointments.

More interesting though are Mulroney's appointment of Ian Deans (NDP) to chair a government committee and Trudeau's of Claude Wagner (PC) to the Senate.

I don't know if Martin wants to depend on precedents set by Mulroney and Trudeau on the issue of Senate patronage but there clearly is a past history of MPs being appointed directly from the Lower House even if they don't belong to the PM's party.

Would offering Inky Mark a Senate seat so that he votes a particular way while still in the House be criminal? Almost definitely. But would offering him the seat so that he will have resigned from the House and not be able to vote at all, be criminal? Maybe not. If theoretically the appointment did go through Mark would still have the opportunity to vote against the budget implementation bill in the Senate. I don't think the fact that Martin has something obvious to gain (avoiding a spring election) would make this appointment legally different from the ones cited above where Trudea and Mulroney had something less specific to gain (reducing the number of opposition MPs by 1). What do I know though?

I'm also suspicious of the fact that Mr. Mark claims he was called by a cabinet minister directly. Seems to me that if you want to pull something this under-handed you'd have your "trusted advisor" (or even better one belonging to a backbencher) call his "unidentified staffer" to see if something could be worked out. I guess maybe negotiations made it past this stage when Inky got cold feet and someone (Peter McKay for instance) convinced him to blow the whistle.

N.B. The research for my historical examples was, admittedly, a bit rudimentary and leaned heavily on the excellent articles in wikipedia.

2 Comments:

Blogger The Tiger said...

Wrong.

"124. Every one who

"(a) purports to sell or agrees to sell an appointment to or a resignation from an office, or a consent to any such appointment or resignation, or receives or agrees to receive a reward or profit from the purported sale thereof, or

"(b) purports to purchase or gives a reward or profit for the purported purchase of any such appointment, resignation or consent, or agrees or promises to do so,

"is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years."

Trying to buy a resignation -- and that's what this is -- qualifies.

Mind you, I'm sure that the evidence doesn't pass the "beyond a reasonable doubt" threshold, given that it's a he-said, he-said kind of thing.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Rhetoric said...

Ben,

Listen I agree both that this is dirty skullduggery and that the evidentiary problem comes well before the theory, but I really don't think a case can be made for this being criminal. I think that your emphasis in the quoted paragraphs is a bit misleading. The important verbs are "sell" in (a) and "purchase" in (b). Both of these seem to require a more tangible level of compensation than moving from one house to another.

Frankly I think that section 119 (see your source or my link to coyne)is the stronger place to make the case. In summary though it states that the guilty party would have to have offered, corruptly, an office to an MP so that MP would omit to do something in his official capacity. The problem is that once Mark has resigned he has no official capacity as an MP. I don't think resignation is an omission.

I did a bit more research today and confirmed that both Claude Wagner and Ian Deans were appointed to government positions (Senate and chairman of the Public Servants Relations Committee, respectively) directly from the House (obviously they had to resign before taking the positions) by PMs from different parties (Trudea and Mulroney). I agree it is much more difficult to prove that either PM benefitted directly from these appointments but do you think it is necessary to prove that Martin would theoretically have benefitted from an offered appointment? Again I am not a specialist so I could be quite wrong. Also, things would be much different if the deal was "you vote for us and then we'll get you a Senate seat." That's criminal.

9:42 PM  

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