Eugene Forsey and the Senate

Rex Murphy looks back at the late Senator Eugene Forsey who he says, "was one of the great ornaments of the Senate."

Rex Murphy looks back at the late Senator Eugene Forsey who he says, "was one of the great ornaments of the Senate."

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

The Senate was not always a black and bottomless pit of miscreants, lickspittles, dizzards, bawdy men, caitiffs, sheep-stealers, hare-brains, wretches, sycophants and dunderheads, sleveens, slovens, slope-shouldered partisans, place-holders, bagmen, fixers and failures as it is now.

Not always.

There have been - excellent Senators.  The great Eugene Forsey, a learned, witty, independent fellow, was just such a man.  Forsey knew the constitution, the country and the Parliament. And best, he had a sense of honour about all three. Ah, Eugene, what would you now be saying to the lickspittles and placeholders who shadow the velvet you once adorned?

To the Prime Minister he would say "stop the stall, whatever is known at whatever level, put it out, all of it and face the whirlwind." And say on these three highest profile appointments: Wallin, Duffy, Brazeau - you absolutely blundered. Because you picked em. And on the Nigel Wright running interference if as you say you had no idea – demonstrate some magnitude of shock that your own Chief of Staff could have been so radically wrong. That putting a Bay Street fix (the cheque) on a Parliamentary scandal was possibly the only way of making it worse. Mr. Prime Minister, don’t offer a hiccup of a statement and jet to Peru.

To Justin Trudeau Mr. Forsey would say: your own party, the Liberals, has for decades used the Senate as a jackpot table and bingo hall for party hacks, the fixers and deal makers. Longer than any other party, the Liberals loved it. They perfected the arts of patronage, of feeding their own flock and giving appointments – Senate on down – to those who were their backers. The lords of the backroom made the Senate. David Smith Liberal wizard is there now, in perfect parallel to Marjory LeBreton, long server to Mr. Mulroney. So Justin, trim the righteousness.  If the Senate is a black pit - your party did a lot of early shovel work.

To the NDP – The absence of temptation is not the same as NOT giving into it. The NDP has never been a national government, but at other levels, provincial or municipal, they are every bit as fluent in patronage and place-stuffing as their Tory and grit counterparts. 

To these Senators currently at the centre of this mess, all four of them:  at the very least step aside for now, refuse the salary, till real inquiry takes place.  Self-honour counts, you’re hurting your colleagues and the Senate. Mr. Forsey, would be wounded by your feeble pulses of integrity and your blistering demonstrations of entitlement. The Senate is not a party bucket, but that’s what you’ve made it.

Yes, there are Senators who have played by the rules and done good things; types like Michael Kirby, Colin Kenny – who at least speaks out – and lately Nancy Green for her example.

And finally, here’s the difference between the Duffy’s and the Forsey’s: Forsey sought what he could bring to the Senate - NOT what the Senate could bring to him.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.