SENATOR PATRICK BRAZEAU was again in the news this week and, as is so often the case, for ignoble reasons. After a report emerged revealing that he holds the title for most-missed days of Senate business, Brazeau took to Twitter and called the reporter who had written the story, Jennifer Ditchburn, a bitch.
His outburst (for which he eventually apologized, while trying to explain that he had personal circumstances that prevented him from being present in the Senate) will likely re-open the never-quite-closed debate over the Senate and its legitimacy as a patronage plum. Brazeau’s career is a good illustration of the Biblical maxim “The race is not to the swift,” and his habitual partisan rowdiness on the Internet does make one wonder if the upper chamber retains any hope of the dignity which is — at least in principle — its chief recommendation.
With little more than a pretty face and a modelling CV, the university drop-out Patrick Brazeau threw himself into aboriginal politics, joining the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, or “CAP,” just in time to inherit the position of President from the retiring Dwight Dorey. Brazeau well understood the art of political maneuvering. The Assembly of First Nations, under then National Chief Phil Fontaine, had by the mid-2000s cultivated a close working relationship with the federal Liberals. Paul Martin and Phil Fontaine, for example, were on especially good terms.
Brazeau shrewdly manipulated his niche of opportunity — the plentiful non-status, off-reserve aboriginals situated beyond the AFN’s mandate — and aggressively courted the federal Conservative Party of Canada. It was a shrewd move. Stephen Harper needed some aboriginal allies, and Brazeau needed funding and a political ally in Ottawa. Within three years, “National Chief” Brazeau (a title whose adoption turned the rival AFN leadership a lovely hue of purple) had the prospect of collecting a generous CAP salary concurrent with a Senate income.
Having absorbed the disappointing news that it was one or the other, Brazeau dispossessed himself of the weighty charge of national leadership and focused on moving on up to the East Block. Those of us who were around and paying attention will recall him cruising the nation’s capital in his Porsche SUV (purchased used, he pointed out) as local media reported some questionable CAP expenses, allegations of sexual harassment and, later, tardy child-support payments.
Brazeau has long been unpopular in Indian Country, where news of the sort summarized above travels swiftly. A more cautious fellow, having found himself in Brazeau’s blessed situation, would keep his head down, lest he risk his extraordinary good fortune. The Senator, however, never misses an opportunity to stir it up.
When his actions bring disrepute to an entire institution, as in this instance they have, a line is crossed. Patrick Brazeau owes an apology to his colleagues. He might also consider spending less time on Twitter (or, better yet, no time) and more on matters of substance. The Senate ought to be a place for grown-ups, and for debate, deliberation, and broad vision. Leave the antics to others, Mr. Brazeau.