It appears the Mike Duffy trial is going to dominate domestic news on the networks for the next month and more. I've been keeping up with what's being reported, but I'm beginning to suspect that the reporters sitting through the courtroom proceedings are starting to get really bored. Arguments and counter-arguments about what constitutes genuine “residency” and debating where government business separates from party business are predictable, but the fact is that both are muddy waters—or so it seems in the trial proceedings to date.
Let me clear up the confusion: place of residency is where you call home, where people go when you say, “Come on over for a coffee and a chat.” And when it comes to party vs. government business, assume that all business done by a politician is party business: wars have always been and always will be fought in order to promote a party's fortunes, for example. Budgets will be set to enhance party chances in the next election. Very seldom is there an utterance heard in question period whose first objective is not partisan.
Now I know that there is such a thing as “primary” and “secondary” residence—for the very few who can afford it—and that politicians have to have a domicile outside their constituency for periods of time. I also know that the times they are a'changin' and that in a time when a politician can give a speech in Ottawa in the morning, have lunch with a colleague in Regina and be interviewed in Vancouver in the evening, the rules as imagined when we first established Canada's bicameral parliament are bound to seem fuzzy and archaic.
Mike Duffy's trial will demonstrate in spades how poorly we've kept up with changes to our politics that would better fit the temper of the times, how hide-bound we are by tradition, our habits of thinking and the archaic ceremony of it all. A glaring example: suggestions for abolishing the senate are scoffed at because our constitution requires a level of unanimity that can't be achieved (or so it's surmised). In other words, our past dictates our future on that issue. Constitutions and Bills of Rights and Confessions of Faith and bylaws, etc. are all necessary, but when we treat them as law books rather than as living, advancing processes, they inhibit us more than they help us.
Mind you, we're still party-animals in our attitudes and ways of making decisions; some of us think more conservatively and some of us more liberally and that will affect how we react to change, how we make decisions collectively, what we assume to be necessary for our national and individual well-being. Harper's, Mulcair's, May's and Trudeau's behaviours are governed in large measure by non-identical, stable underlying worldviews. No matter how we restructure, there will always be conflict, negotiation, quarrels and dissatisfaction-with-outcomes.
The Mike Duffy trial may alert us to the degree to which we've failed to address restructuring to make the best use of our talents in governing ourselves as amicably and as fairly as possible, given the fact that we'll never be unanimous . . . on anything. The bickering over residency and party vs. government business are merely symptoms of this failure.
Abolishing the senate, inaugurating proportional representation in government would be good starts in a good direction, in my opinion.