The Commons: The Real Senators of Parliament Hill

May you never again have to wonder where your senator lives

And so we return to the existential question of Mike Duffy’s place in this world.

“Even the bogus investigation by his hand-picked cronies in the Senate,” Thomas Mulcair charged, rather audaciously and perhaps imprudently, in the Prime Minister’s direction this afternoon, “found that Mike Duffy does not maintain a primary residence on Prince Edward Island. The Constitution requires that a senator ‘be a resident of the province for which he is appointed.’ The Conservatives now admit, through their own bogus investigation, that Mr. Duffy is not a resident of PEI, yet still say that he is qualified to be a senator from PEI. Why is the Prime Minister allowing this continuous fraud by the Conservatives in the Senate?”

The Prime Minister’s interpretation of the day’s news differed somewhat.

“Mr. Speaker, on the contrary, an independent external auditor was brought in to examine all of these expenses,” Mr. Harper explained. “He looked obviously at the expenses of three particular senators who have had some difficulty.”

Let us from this day forward remember this moment in Senate history as the Great Difficulty.

“The auditor has concluded that the rules in place were not clear,” Mr. Harper continued, “however, the Senate itself has decided it expects better judgment from the senators. Senator Duffy has some months ago repaid the money and the Senate has decided that other senators will be expected to similarly repay those amounts.”

Officially today, the Senate’s standing committee on internal economy, budgets and administration tabled its 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th reports. Senator Patrick Brazeau has been ordered to repay $48,744, including interest, in previously claimed expenses. Senator Mac Harb has been ordered to repay $51,482. Senator Mike Duffy seems to have accidentally claimed a per diem for several days that he shouldn’t have. A further examination of Senator Harb’s expenses over the seven years prior to April 1, 2011 will also now be conducted. The senior Liberal in the Senate wants the police called in. And Senator Harb has quit the Liberal caucus and says he will take up the finding against him with the courts.

If you should feel it necessary to understand as much as possible about Senator Duffy’s situation, there is a table located at the bottom of page 2 of the Deloitte audit. It is wonderfully entitled “Summary of Senator Duffy’s Location.” (There are similar tables too for Senator Harb and Senator Brazeau.) Of the 549 days covered by the firm’s investigation, Senator Duffy finished 296 days in Ottawa. A total of 164 days, including one “identified day trip,” were concluded in Prince Edward Island. Thus, just 30% of his days were spent in the province he officially represents. Twenty-six days were spent in “other locations.” For 16 days—listed as “Unknown”—Mr. Duffy seems to have gone missing.

We might now resolve this matter forever by having our senators wear GPS ankle bracelets or if we began tagging them like wild bears. Instead, it is in the opinion of the standing committee on internal economy, budgets and administration that “accompanying their primary residence declaration each senator furnish a driver’s licence, a health card and the relevant page of their income tax form each and every time the declaration is signed.” This will presumably help to substantiate the constitutional requirement of residing in the place one is appointed to represent. Hopefully, Senator Duffy will have his PEI health card by the time he is next required to sign the declaration.

“This audit has indicated that there is a ‘lack of clarity’ in the Senate’s rules and definitions with regard to residency and housing allowances,” Senator Duffy responded in a statement. “In this respect, the audit is consistent with the position I have maintained since this controversy first arose.”

Fair enough. The precise nature of the requirement of primary residence was unclear. As unclear perhaps as the precise reason for maintaining a second chamber.

Afterwards, in foyer of the House of Commons, the NDP’s Charlie Angus was happily, if unfortunately, questioning the comprehension of the senators in question—”They stay till 75 doing important work reviewing complex legislation yet they’re not bright enough to fill out a simple housing form”—and down the hall, in the foyer of the Senate, Marjory LeBreton was asking reporters to note the upside: that the Conservatives had introduced quarterly reports on senators’ expenses and those reports had led to today’s clarification of the rules.

The Senate, meanwhile, sent around the statement of Senator David Tkachuk, chair of the standing committee on internal economy, budgets and administration, an appointee of Brian Mulroney in 1993.

“Each of us is here because of our service to our community, to our profession or to our political party. I tell new Senators that God has blessed us. We are privileged to be here,” Senator Tkachuk apparently told the upper chamber today. “But at the same time, and as we have found out at great cost to this institution, any mistakes we make are magnified tenfold. That is because, as a non-elected democratic institution, the ones we govern do not have the ability to ‘throw the rascals out.’ We are protected by parliamentary privilege and by constitutional requirement. We therefore have a higher obligation. How seriously we take it will determine our future.”

And so, if God wishes there to be a Senate, may He bless it with fewer reasons to scrutinize the nature of its existence.