Nothing to look at here

There's a loopy story making the rounds that Yukon Senator Daniel Lang is due to step down later this year, owing to his commitment to the idea that members of the Red Chamber should only serve eight-year terms. 

There’s a loopy story making the rounds that Yukon Senator Daniel Lang is due to step down later this year, owing to his commitment to the idea that members of the Red Chamber should only serve eight-year terms. We’d like to set the record straight.

It’s true that when Lang was appointed in late 2008 he vowed to fight in favour of such term limits. It’s also true that, at that time, he ventured to say he couldn’t imagine wanting to serve more than eight years himself. But, as Lang recently noted after we spent some time trying to reach him to discuss this subject, that’s not quite the same thing as him actually volunteering to resign.

No, not at all. As he notes, strictly speaking he only ever committed to supporting legislation that would impose term limits on senators, and that bill failed to become law. So that’s the end of it, really.

Lang has now made it clear he plans to serve as long as he feels like it. Who knows? Maybe he will remain at the post for another seven years until he reaches the ripe age of 75, when mandatory retirement finally kicks in.

Some will say that Lang’s non-committal stance makes him seem slippery and opportunistic. That he seems willing to say one thing, then do another. That if he believed in the principle of imposing term limits on senators, he should be willing to set an example with his own behaviour, whether the legislation that aimed to deal with the matter passed or not. In short, some will say that Lang’s evasiveness on the subject today is precisely the sort of behaviour that helps explain why politicians are often held in such low regard.

But shouldn’t politicians be allowed to change their minds? After all, Lang once shared the widely held view that the Senate itself is of questionable usefulness, beyond offering cushy patronage posts to party hacks and bagmen. But that stance, shall we say, evolved around the time Stephen Harper invited him to join the club, at which point Lang quickly recognized the institutional value of an unelected upper chamber, provided that its members embraced accountability reforms such as term limits.

Now, it just so happens, his position has changed yet again, to reflect the view – hardly unorthodox among senators – that he can do pretty much whatever he feels like. Perhaps you consider these position switches to be unprincipled, but Lang’s aide prefers to use the term “fluid,” thank you very much.

Lang wants to focus on his ardent desire to serve the Yukon, but it’s also important to recognize, in fairness to him, that there’s real money at stake as well. Retiring this year could potentially mean foregoing another seven years’ wages. And Lang doesn’t just receive a senator’s generous, inflation-indexed base salary, but also an additional bump for serving as the chair of the national defence committee. All together, Lang stands to receive $154,000 in 2015-16.

That means an early retirement for Lang could amount to walking away from more than $1 million – although, admittedly, that full amount wouldn’t be actually be foregone by early retirement, since whenever Lang chooses to stop working he will continue to receive generous payments for the rest of his life, thanks to his gold-plated pension plan.

But in the end who are we, or anyone else for that matter, to question the judgment of such an extremely important person? To help set us straight, Lang’s aide kindly made repeated phone calls to this newspaper to make it abundantly clear that the senator does not consider inquiries about his retirement plans to be a matter of real public interest.

So, we repeat, this is not a story. This newspaper’s editorial staff must have only seen fit to publish an article on the subject earlier in the week during a fit of collective derangement. Some mind-altering substance must have been put in our coffee supply. Upon reflection, we humbly defer to the senator’s own judgment on this matter, and we encourage everyone else to do the same.

There is nothing to look at here, people, so please move along.

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