'Not full of criminals' is a pretty pathetic baseline for Senate credibility: Robyn Urback

Spare a thought for the senators who haven't complained about "ice cold Camembert," or been caught in dubious expense claim scandals, or had a sexual relationship with a teenager.

Meredith’s sexual partner was of the legal age of consent so he can say he hasn't actually broken any laws

Senator Don Meredith appears to have no intention of resigning despite the new material he’s offered to Senate critics who want to see the place abolished. (CBC News)

Spare a thought, if you can, for the Canadian senators we never hear about.

The ones who don't whinge publicly about "ice cold Camembert and broken crackers." The ones who don't bill hundreds of thousands of dollars in dubious travel expenses, or plead guilty to assault and possession of cocaine, or ask taxpayers to pay for their Ottawa home, hilariously labelling a seemingly abandoned cottage in P.E.I. as their "primary residence." Oh, Mr. Duffy — what a riot you are!

Senator Mike Duffy is back to work after successfully defending his Senate expenses in court. (Lorian Belanger/CBC)

A moment for the senators who were not among the 30 flagged by Auditor General Michael Ferguson in his report on publicly financed fishing trips, fancy dinners and golfing expeditions — and of those, the nine who were referred to the RCMP. And a thought for the senators, the sentries of our esteemed house of sober second thought, who haven't reportedly masturbated to a teenager taking off her clothes over a webcam, having promised her committee work and business connections for her family. Forgive them if they call in sick for the next few days.

Senate ethics report

Some of those senators are now trying to find a legal loophole that would allow them to expel their colleague, Senator Don Meredith, who it appears has no intention of resigning despite the new material he's offered to Senate critics who want to see the place abolished. Last week, the Senate's ethics watchdog released her report into allegations of misconduct by Meredith and found he engaged in a two-year sexual relationship with a girl that started when she was 16 years old.

The report says Meredith violated two sections of the Senate's code of ethics, concluding that he "drew upon his weight, prestige and notability of his office, as well as his relative position of power as a much older adult, to lure or attract Ms. M, a teenager who, by virtue of her age, was necessarily vulnerable."

The ethics watchdog found Meredith violated two sections of the Senate's code of ethics. (CBC)

But because Meredith's sexual partner was of the legal age of consent when they had their first sexual encounter, he hasn't actually broken any laws — which is something his (anonymous, online) defenders are quick to point out.

These defenders have made the case that Meredith didn't really do anything unforgivably wrong from an ethical perspective by engaging in a sexual relationship with a teenager — while he was married, and while he was also serving as a Pentecostal pastor. Some concede that it might not have been the best choice, but it really isn't any of our business; people have affairs all the time, sometimes with teenagers, and they shouldn't necessarily lose their jobs for them.

That's fair enough, but Meredith's affair is relevant to his position in the Senate for two reasons. First, he made it relevant. According to the ethics probe, he used his power and authority in his relationship with his sexual partner by promising her a spot on a committee he struck and by signing a reference letter for an internship on Parliament Hill.

Secondly, it is reasonable to expect Senators to maintain a level of personal and professional conduct more stringent than what we'd expect, say, of the guy cleaning up the vomit in your local coffee shop's bathroom. If ol' Jim there wants to cheat on his wife with the teenager running the cash, so be it; maybe I'll start getting my doughnuts somewhere else if it really starts bothering me.

A job for life

But the Senate is reserved — or supposed to be reserved — for some of the finest men and women in our country; those who are tasked to use their good judgment to protect the interests of all Canadians, and in return, they get a job for life and all of the benefits that come with being a senator.  

Yes, Meredith, like Mike Duffy, didn't do anything illegal. But "not full of criminals" is a pretty pathetic baseline for Senate credibility. "Legal" does not mean ethical, "common" does not mean acceptable and "none of your business" generally does not apply to those tasked with approving the laws that govern our business. In the Canadian Senate, however, "sex with a teenager," for now, still means a reserved spot.   

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


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