Times in Trail: Scandal makes Senate look more like ‘Survivor’

Managing editor Guy Bertrand shares his impression of the ongoing Senate scandal.

If the common saying is “the truth is stranger than fiction,” then perhaps an appropriate summation of the ongoing Senate scandal could be “the reality is stranger than reality TV.”

The twists and turns of this saga hit yet another curve on Tuesday when beleaguered Senator Mike Duffy took direct aim at Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It was an interesting twist on this sordid affair of background deals and cover-ups that has thrown an otherwise little-known Senate into the same mud pit where we usually find members of the House of Commons.

With that mud-slinging image in mind, it’s hard for me not to liken this saga to another season of “Survivor,” where, for those unfamiliar with the long-running reality show, people are left on an island to battle it out to determine the sole survivor.

Parliament Hill is often regarded as more of an Ivory Tower than a tropical island but leave it to politicians and their friends to drag it into the realm of another reality TV spin-off.

Just a few months ago Duffy was painted as the evildoer in this whole affair. His bogus living expenses, a payoff from a government insider, his refusal to vacate his plush Senate seat and his history of unabashedly promoting Harper and the ruling Conservative Party, which appointed him to his cushy position, all added up to a spoiled political insider feeding at the taxpayer’s trough.

As the public backlash grew, it was only a matter of time when he, and other senators like Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, were sent off to Exile Island (the reality show’s version of a last chance) to remain in Purgatory until they were deemed fit enough by the Prime Minister and his Senate lackeys to return to the game.

On the other hand we had Prime Minister Harper travelling the globe, admonishing countries for a lack of human rights, playing the big guy on the block and very publicly boycotting an economic summit and trumpeting his financial acumen by landing a free trade deal with the European Union.

It’s funny that the very same people Harper was hoping to help with his attack on cable TV packages in his Throne Speech are the ones anxiously tuning in to see what happens next in “Senate Survivor.”

And as quick as last week’s episode was in the books the producers of this Canadian-made reality show threw in another plot twist this week.

Duffy’s revelation in the Senate that he was pressured into taking the blame for his expenses by the Prime Minister and chastising his fellow senators for simply towing the party line in a “chamber of sober second thought,” turned the entire dialogue on the Senate scandal on its ear.

I found it ironic that six months ago people were calling for Duffy to be expelled from the Senate, turfed from his cushy job and basically doom him to the annals of history as one of those greedy senators like Raymond Lavigne who is still serving time for fraud.

Meanwhile, although Harper has slipped in the polls, he stuck to his strategy of avoiding answering tough questions, blaming the media for ignoring other issues and simply moving forward steadfastly despite surrounded by controversy.

Of course his bid to suspend senators left those in his cross-hairs with little option but to fight back rather than stay silent. That prompted Duffy’s pointed speech on Tuesday.

Now a CBC viewer poll on Wednesday morning was asking people, “Who do you trust more, Stephen Harper or Mike Duffy?”

Sounds like a lose-lose question. And to liken it for those familiar with “Survivor,” Duffy has gone from the show’s iconic villain, Russell Hantz, to a fan favourite like Rupert Boneham.

Meanwhile, Harper retains the persona of Brandon Hantz, Russell’s nephew, who tried his best to find faith, save his family name and lead others to victory but eventually succumbed to his old underhanded ways and was exposed for what is really brewing behind the facade.

Just like “Survivor,” the end result is nobody trusts anyone and they all eventually throw each other under the bus.

The sad truth of the matter is while families across the country struggle to make ends meet, United Nations’ observer chastises the federal government for ignoring aboriginal issues and the chorus against the future of our natural resources continues to grow, our leaders are stuck, like many cable channels, on the rise and fall of a popular ongoing reality show.

With that mind, it’s appropriate to compare the Canadian voters to the all-powerful tribal council on “Survivor.” Although members of the tribal council were all victims of backroom alliances or underhanded dealings at one point or another as the saga played out week after week, they do have the final say when the show reaches its climax.

In the case of “Senate Survivor,” the finale will no doubt be the 2015 federal election.

That’s when the Canadian voter will be the determining factor that will decide who survives this soap opera/reality show and, judging by the current sate of politics in Canada, gets to appear in the future episodes, albeit as a villain not a favourite.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Times.