Senate hires motivational speakers as spending scandal rages
A view of the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 13, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, June 18, 2013 12:50PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 18, 2013 4:17PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Two speakers hired by the Senate to help motivate senators and staff in the midst of a raging scandal over the abuse of taxpayers' money have had their event cancelled pending further discussion.
Communications consultant Barry McLoughlin and motivational speaker Marc-Andre Morel had been slated to talk about "the enduring value of the Senate and help bring a little perspective to the current situation," according to an invitation that went out Tuesday morning.
But after a story by The Canadian Press publicized the event, a number of prominent senators blew a gasket.
Marjory LeBreton, government leader in the Senate, said the idea was discussed in principle at a meeting of the internal economy committee's steering committee. But it was never approved by members of the committee.
"I was shocked when I saw that (email invitation)," LeBreton said outside the Senate chamber.
"I would strongly suggest that the administration cancel any plans they have for motivational speakers."
Asked if she thinks hiring speakers is a waste of money, LeBreton responded: "At this point in time, I certainly do."
Sure enough, late Tuesday afternoon all senate staff received a fresh, high-priority communication.
"The staff sessions scheduled for tomorrow have been cancelled until further notice, pending discussion with the full committee of Internal Economy," said the email from Reina Bernier, the Senate's senior advisor on services and programs.
The talks had been scheduled for Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. (ET) -- when the Senate is supposed to be sitting.
The subject line of the email invitation told recipients that "the Senate values you and the work you do -- come find out why."
It was not immediately clear how much the Senate contracted to pay for the speakers but it appears the decision was made by Senate clerk Gary O'Brien.
The Senate has been rocked for the past six months by a scandal involving four senators and their alleged abuse of living and travel expenses.
In the case of Sen. Mike Duffy, the scandal is now under investigation by the RCMP. Duffy accepted a $90,000 "gift" from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, which he used to reimburse his improper expense claims.
McLoughlin's biography bills him as "one of North America's leading communications consultants;" his company specializes in training politicians, governments and corporations in how to deal with the media.
Morel is touted as an internationally-renowned expert on "the themes of personal and professional success."
Both Liberal and Conservative senators seemed dumbfounded that the pair had been hired to give discouraged Senate denizens a pep talk.
"It's an outrageous approach to a very serious issue which has taken place in the Senate of Canada," said Liberal Sen. Jim Munson.
As a member of the internal economy committee, Munson was particularly furious that the committee had not been consulted on the matter.
"It's a comedy of errors what's going on here in the lack of consultation. We're talking taxpayers' money and this wouldn't come cheap."
During the expenses scandal, it emerged that the Senate administration had rejected numerous expense claims from Duffy but had not alerted the internal economy committee to his noticeable pattern of invalid claims.
Conservative Sen. Gerald Comeau, who became chair of the internal economy committee last week, said he knew nothing about the hiring of speakers.
"I don't need a motivational speaker to tell me what I have to do here," said Conservative Sen. Jacques Demers. "I just come here and try to do the best I can every day."
James Cowan, the Liberals' Senate leader, confessed to being surprised -- and not interested in attending the talks.
"I intend to be in there (the Senate chamber) tomorrow afternoon, not at some session for motivation."
Still, Cowan acknowledged that the scandal has discouraged everyone who works in or for the Senate.
"When these kinds of controversies arise, then inevitably it tarnishes everybody's reputation, the good and the bad. So, it's not good but we'll get over it."