If you've been following the news lately, you're probably aware of the current kerfuffle over the residency of our current crop of Senators.
What appears to have started as a targeted shot at one or two Senators is beginning to snowball into something much larger. Where do our Senators live when they aren't in the Senate?
Okay, from what I gather this all started with someone wondering why some Senators were claiming living expenses for being in Ottawa even though they actually own homes in the area. One of these Senators is Mac Harb who sits as a Liberal in the Senate.
Senator Harb has owned a home in the Ottawa area going back to the 1970s, but he still claims Senate living expenses because his “home" is in Pembroke, Ontario. Pembroke is outside of the 100km limit to claim these living expenses.
If Senator Harb lived there before he got his appointment then he would be within the rules. Is this an abuse of the rules? I'd say so, but my say so doesn't carry a lot of weight in these matters. This is just another one of those rules that the people in charge like to make to subsidize their own kind.
So another Senator, David Tkachuk (Conservative) has been given the job of determining the real residences of all the Senators.
Senator Tkachuk seems to be a reasonable man. He lives in Ottawa during the week and travels home on the weekends. We might be annoyed that he flies back and forth to Saskatchewan, but that's allowed, it is part of the rules... And at least we know where his residence is.
Now I don't know if Sen. Tkachuk had an agenda to target one or two Senators or if he wanted to make sure all the Senators were on the up and up, but he told the Senators that he needed proof of residency from all of them. He wanted copies of their Health Cards and Driver's Licenses, the same things you or I would show to prove where we live. Oh and proof of where they vote.
After Sen. Tkachuk made his request, odd things started to happen. A certain fellow from PEI suddenly needed his Health Card renewed and some people wondered why if a Senator lived in their town, they had never seen them. And then the News People woke up.
Our News Folks might be late to parties, but when they smell blood they dive right in.
Curiously Sen. Harb seems to have fallen off of the radar being replaced by much higher profile Senators...
Senator Duffy (Conservative) who suddenly needed his Health Card renewed found out that he can't renew it, he's been away so long he needs to apply for a new one. He doesn't qualify for the tax break for having a residence in PEI, and he apparently voted in the Ontario provincial election.
Senator Brazeau (Conservative) appears to own a home in the Ottawa area, but claims he lives with his Dad. Senator Brazeau also seems to have claimed residency on a Native Reserve at another time for tax breaks but no one there can recall him living there.
And now Senator Pamela Wallin (Conservative) is facing questions over her Saskatchewan residency. Although she owns property there, she has spent most of the last decade between New York City and Toronto.
Senator Tkachuk seems to have opened a can of worms and is now looking for outside help. What is a simple question to us may be more complicated issue in the Senate. Senator Tkachuk realizes that his way of maintaining a home may not work for others. It might be easier for some to live in Ottawa and visit "home" from time to time.
But the Constitution requires a Senator to reside in their home province and work in Ottawa.
So what does residency mean?
For most people this is easy. We live in our residences, we call it home. We go to work and sleep at home. Some who live far from their jobs may spend the work week close to their job and travel home on weekends, much like Sen. Tkachuk does. Students may live at school or nearby, but come home for Christmas.
Actually students are a special group. When it comes to elections, students get to choose where they vote. They are allowed to vote either at home or where they live. But does that define residency?
That's the issue that Sen. Tkachuk is wrestling with.
The provinces also have rules governing residency. Depending on where you live, the amount of time you need to spend there to be a resident varies. Most provinces will only allow you to be out of province for six months in a year. Beyond that and your Health Card lapses.
So what is a reasonable requirement?
The Senate is usually sits between 60 and 100 days in a year, but that doesn't take other Senate business into account. Senators have other duties besides sitting in the Senate Chambers, they also sit on Senate Committees as well as House of Commons Committees. Just as most MPs have duties outside of the House and Committee work Senators have other business to attend to as well.
To maintain our health insurance, we need to reside in our provinces for a certain number of days each year. The number of days varies by province, 122 (NL), 153 (ON), or 183 in the rest of Canada. Would it be reasonable to hold Senators to the same standard that applies to the rest of us?
The majority of us live with the 183 day rule, maybe they should too... Fair's fair isn't it?
Well maybe, but the Senate Schedule is a bit odd. They usually run 20 to 24 weeks a year, but they run in blocks of 3 or 4 weeks with a week or two off in between and July and August set aside as summer vacation.
It is a bit of a mess, but I’m sure they will figure something out. They always do… but I don’t know if anyone would accept Senator Duffy’s 60 days in PEI a year an acceptable standard.
I’m no longer a betting man, but I’d wager that if they do anything that it won’t adversely affect any sitting Senators... If they set a number of days, it will likely be 122 or less…
Maybe they’ll surprise me. I’ll offer this idea to Senator Tkachuk for free… it shall be required that any person being considered for a seat in the Senate to provide proof of residency of 183 or more days per calendar year for the 3 years prior to being installed in the Senate.
It would have solved most of these problems before they happened, but actually knowing what you were doing would have solved most of these issues before they happened. Like being aware that there is a residency requirement in the Constitution for Senators. But when the guy making the picks says things like “I’m the Boss, I make the rules” I guess all bets are off.
Yes Steve, I’m looking at you.