Do all senators meet residency rules? NDP wants to know

NDP MP Charlie Angus wants a clear answer on whether current senators meet constitutional residency requirements, after an audit found Senator Pamela Wallin spends more time in Toronto than Saskatchewan, the province she was appointed to represent.

MP Charlie Angus asks government to explain

NDP MPs Charlie Angus and Alexandrine Latendresse address issues regarding Senate residency requirements 19:45

A New Democratic Party MP is calling for the government to answer whether all current senators meet residency qualifications to sit in the Senate.

At a news conference Friday, Charlie Angus also faced questions about why MPs don't have to submit to an audit of their travel and living expenses by the auditor general in the same way that senators now do.

Angus has written a letter to Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre asking him what action he intends to take to ensure senators adhere to residency rules.

Angus pointed out a Deloitte audit released on Tuesday found that Senator Pamela Wallin spends more time in Toronto than in Saskatchewan, the province she was appointed to represent.

Senator Pamela Wallin, left, speaks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a campaign rally in Saskstoon during the 2011 federal election. Wallin was appointed as a senator from Saskatchewan, but a Deloitte audit found she spends more time in Toronto and Ottawa. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

Angus also wants to know how rigorously the Privy Council Office vetted the Senate appointments of Wallin as well as  senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, who have both been found to have claimed inappropriate expenses. He wants to know if the PCO found problems with residency requirements of the three senators, or the fact that Brazeau had "personal issues."

"He [Poilievre] also needs to come clean with these concerns if they were raised by the Privy Council," Angus said.

When he became a senator, Duffy had lived in Ottawa for four decades. He was appointed a P.E.I. senator, but kept his Ottawa home and claimed expenses for it as an out-of-town senator, declaring his primary residence was his P.E.I. winterized cottage. Brazeau was facing a sexual harassment complaint at the time of his Senate appointment, although the complaint was later dismissed.

"It's not enough to say your heart's there, that your uncle lives there or you have a cottage there," said Angus, adding that the Constitution requires a senator to reside in the province he or she was appointed to represent.

The only proof the Senate used for residency was for senators to show ownership of property worth a least $4,000 and to annually make a declaration —a "pinky-swear" according to Angus — attesting to which province or region is their primary residence.

Last year, a Senate committee tightened the residency definition, saying a senator should have a driver's licence and health card from his or her home province, and should vote and pay taxes there.

Angus pointed out that the only requirement Wallin met is having a Saskatchewan driver's licence. A Deloitte audit revealed Duffy applied for a P.E.I. driver's licence on the day he was appointed to the Senate, but continued to maintain an Ontario health card.

Asked by a reporter if residency matters in today's mobile world, Angus replied that if senators choose to ignore the Constitution they can't be relied upon to follow other rules.

"I'm calling on the minister of democratic reform to end his silence on this scandal, to clean up the appointments process and commit to Canadians that he will put an end to using the Senate to feather the nests of the Conservative Party," Angus said.

Why MPs don't proactively disclose expenses

At the news conference, reporters repeatedly pressed Angus about why MPs don't have to face the scrutiny of Auditor General Michael Ferguson, as all senators are doing now in the wake of the Senate expense scandal, or why MPs such as himself don't plan to post detailed expenses online.

The auditor general looked at a sample of MPs expenses last year and found no significant problems.

Currently, the expenses of MPs are overseen by an all-party committee of selected MPs. The board of internal economy meets in secret and rarely answers questions about its work. 

MPs do post quarterly expenses online, but only in broad categories, with no details about individual trips. 

Asked why he wouldn't post his own expenses in detail, Angus said, "I guess it's a fundamental issue of trust because then it’s on the honour system again, and if individual MPs post they can also decide not to post. If there's something problematic, they can just leave it out."

In Calgary Friday, Jason Kenney, the employment and social development minister, said in a scrum with reporters, "In June, we also adopted a policy in the House of Commons to proactively disclose details of the spending of members of Parliament." 

But any changes to the way MPs account for spending won't happen until next spring. In June, an NDP motion was passed to allow the internal economy board to "conduct open and public hearings" about replacing the board with an independent oversight body," and to study Trudeau's motions. The auditor general will be invited to participate in the discussions. 

The motion calls for the study to be finished by the end of March 2014. 

Outside of cabinet ministers who must post details of their trips and hospitality expenses, only Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Conservative Senator Doug Black proactively disclose, on their own volition, all their expenses. May even scans receipts. 

Trudeau has pledged that all Liberal MPs and Liberal senators will post detailed expenses by September.