Suspension of three senators 'dangerous,' Joe Clark says
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, November 6, 2013 5:25PM EST
Former prime minister Joe Clark says the suspension of three senators over alleged “gross negligence” regarding their expense claims was “dangerous” because all the facts aren’t in.
In an interview with CTV’s Power Play to promote his new book, “How We Lead: Canada in a Century of Change,” Clark said he “understands the impulses” behind the move to suspend Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau without pay or access to Senate resources for the remainder of the Parliamentary session.
But, he said, “I’m concerned that it was action before the evidence was in, and I think that’s always dangerous.”
Clark warned that the move carries a risk of setting a precedent.
“Not a precedent about bad behaviour but a precedent about independent behaviour,” Clark said.
“Our Senate after all was supposed to provide an independent point of view and at its best it has. So I’m worried about that. And of course the other aspect of this, as others have been saying, is there’s an awful lot of information that should be in the public domain that’s not in the public domain about who knew what and when in the Prime Minister’s Office.”
Clark did not reserve his criticism for the federal government’s move to suspend the three senators. He also questioned foreign policy decisions, the main thrust of his new book, saying “it’s time to restore some balance” to the file.
He said there is a role for Canada to play in areas such as mediation and conflict resolution, “the so-called soft power things at which we used to be one of the world’s great leaders and the Harper government shows very little interest in.”
Clark said the decision to boycott the upcoming Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka over that country’s human rights record and the severing of diplomatic ties with Iran are two examples of decisions that limit Canada’s ability to play a constructive role in world affairs.
“The need for a trusted country that can mediate others, that can find agreement, is greater than it even was back in the post-war period,” Clark said. “So it’s a funny field for us to be abandoning, and other countries are going to be picking up and filling the space that we’re leaving vacant.”
He praised Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird for taking “some vigorous stands” on issues, including the ongoing violence in Syria.
However, he said, “the issue here really is, is it enough simply to have a principle and to state it, or do you have to go into unpleasant circumstances and fight for that principle? That’s what they’re really not doing.”
In particular, Clark said, Canada needs to engage more with parties in the Middle East, particularly Iran, which will play “a major role” in both world and regional events “for a long time to come.
“We’re far better off on the ground knowing what they’re doing, learning what they’re doing, listening to anything they might say in confidence that they wouldn’t say in public than we are being out of the play,” he said.