The ongoing Senate scandal has certainly done its share of damage — to the prime minister, the Conservative Party, the institution of the Senate and politicians in general.
The damage may not spread past that group, but it is significant and it may be lasting.
The Senate is certainly at its low point. It has never been popular with Canadians, being seen as a repository for bagmen, party hacks and failed politicians. While a few individual senators have done important and significant work, as a whole the institution does little of lasting importance.
Now it has clearly been shown that many senators, and this goes far beyond Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, have had their hands in the cookie jar. Even when they get caught, the Senate and indeed the prime minister do little or nothing to change the culture of entitlement, which is widespread through the federal government.
It isn’t just politicians who feel they are entitled to benefits that most other Canadians don’t get. Public servants have clauses in their contracts relating to sick leave, indexed pensions, severance and extended health care that most others can only dream of.
The prime minister first took office in 2006 on a pledge to reform the Senate. It is now clear he has no idea of how to do so. A court decision in Quebec has basically ruled all his reform ideas cannot be implemented, and the court decision implies that the Senate will never be abolished, unless most provinces agree.
Even if, in the court of public opinion, Stephen Harper is cleared of direct knowledge of off-the-books payments to senators, the public won’t soon forget that he appointed these three senators, and that he campaigned vigorously on Senate reform.
As for the Conservative Party, in the next election its fortunes are totally tied to Harper. If he falters, so does the party. It has no plan B.