Hunting down another Senate boondoggle

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Easy: claim a secondary residence in Ottawa

Last week I told you how Conservative senators -- who are paid $ 133,400 a year-- can scoop up another $ 20,000 by claiming a secondary residence in Ottawa when it is really their principal residence.

Senator Patrick Brazeau for one, claims the house where his dad lives in Maniwaki, Quebec as his principal residence, far enough from the capital to make him eligible for a second residence allowance in Ottawa where he lives with his girlfriend.

Now we hear that some Conservative senators like to charge $ 5,000 to $ 8,000 as conference speakers and lecturers.

They are great at trotting out amusing anecdotes, or talking about their particular political interests, like Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais on firearms.

But senators telling specific business groups the inside plans of the federal government and being paid for it, well that crosses the line.

Parliamentary law does not allow senators to receive money in return for blabbing secret government legislation ahead of time.

Three Conservative senators are paid as speakers: Mike Duffy, former CTV journalist who has many good yarns to tell; Larry Smith, former president of the Alouettes who speaks brilliantly about the importance of tenacity in politics and in sport, and Jacques Demers, former coach of the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings who speaks passionately about his personal challenge to overcome illiteracy.

Their speeches are well worth the price paid by associations and groups who hire them for entertainment and inspiration.

But getting any more specific about legislation could be a problem.

That's understandable. Imagine a senator who charges $ 5,000 to tell bankers ahead of time about new bank legislation. That's almost as bad as tipping off bankers about what's going to be in the budget.

So far we have no evidence that a single senator has broken the law, but there is concern about it in parliament.

It's been decided that the paid lecturers and after-dinner speakers of the Senate who charge for their speeches should have to explain their work before a Senate committee.

One small problem: Their judges will be other senators, in many cases lecturers just like themselves.

The NDP has a simple suggestion: Put the key in the door of the Senate.


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