A lot of trending buzz in the media this week over the controversy surrounding Pierre Boisvenu’s spending subsidies and behaviors as a Canadian senator. As Pierre is a friend, colleague and mentor – we often refer to each other as “brother” –
allow me to offer some thoughts.
First, a little background. I apologize to those who have heard this a dozen times before on this website. I met Pierre 10-years-ago when we were cutting our teeth in the victims rights arena. Pierre’s daughter had been murdered in Sherbrooke, Quebec, I was investigating the very cold-case of my sister’s murder in the Eastern Townships, so we had a common affinity for the cause and the region. In 2003, we crashed the Federally sponsored victims conference, Moving Forward – Lessons Learned from Victims of Crime. We both laughed, bitterly at how under-represented victims were at that, the first national victims conference. We met for the first time on the eve of the conference in an Italian restaurant across the Ottawa river in Hull, Quebec. I was staying at the time with friends in the Gatineau, where Pierre currently keeps a residence. When I met Pierre I was struck by his energy, confidence and optimism; I couldn’t believe that this guy had lost a daughter within less than a year.
We became very close. He and his wife visited with my family in Chapel Hill, I have stayed at his condo in Sherbrooke. Within the past 10-years both our marriages disintegrated. I never knew the direct reasons for Pierre’s separation from Diane, but I am sure they are similar to mine; you maintain that shell of confidence, but beneath things start to crack.
Pierre went on to found AFPAD, and several other victims organizations, he championed legislative reform for victims, and fell under the umbrella influence of Harper conservatives. From the point that he became a Canadian senator I largely lost touch with Pierre.
If I am to understand the residency regulations for Canadian politicians, the issue is where you live, and how much tax payers should subsidize that. I believe Pierre’s argument would be he is entitled to the stipend because he is technically still living in the condo in Sherbrooke. Technically, that is probably true. Though he keeps a place in Gatineau, he no doubt has lots of business back in Quebec. I have observed him dart back-and-forth between Ottawa and Sherbrooke in his car for years in the time before he was even a senator. In a regular week I have watched him pepper the province rushing from one frontline victim function to the next (he doesn’t just travel the cooridors of power – Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City – the guy is in the weeds with victims, he gets everywhere). Is that still true? I have no knowledge. And anyway, he is a senator now, he serves all of Canada, so I would hope he was covering greater ground in other regions, but sources tell me his cause is still deeply entrenched in Quebec affairs.
On the issue of his relationship with a staff member. I agree strongly that your personal life is personal, you have no business in Mr. Boisvenu’s bedroom. But I also believe, whether it is inscribed in an official code of conduct or not, romantic relations with a subordinate crosses an ethical line.
A life of public service is full of temptation, and under constant scrutiny. I know. I work in local government, but only at the municipal level. The most I’ve been offered was free college basketball tickets. Not very tempting, but I declined. Alright, I’ll cop to being offered Canes tickets. More tempting (especially this evening), but still I declined. I know that the temptations and risks at the state and federal levels are greater, and Pierre has worked in that environment all his life (as a deputy minister for Quebec, and now at the senatorial level). All the more reason to be more vigilant.
As a public employee it is not enough to simply follow the rules, at all times you must avoid even the perception of impropriety. That’s a high bar of achievement, and maybe the strain of maintaining that standard leads some to fall.
I welcome all comments and opinions.