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Mike Duffy: NDP wants 'phantom' residency declaration released

Did suspended Senator Mike Duffy sign a formal declaration attesting to being "resident of Prince Edward Island" before Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed off on his nomination to the Upper House? And did the prime minister tell the Commons that he did so last month?

New Democrats continue to press for more details on the Senate vetting process

The NDP wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper to explain how he verified now-suspended Senator Mike Duffy met the constitutional residency requirements to represent Prince Edward Island before naming him to the Senate in 2008. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Did suspended Senator Mike Duffy sign a formal declaration attesting to being "resident of Prince Edward Island" before Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed off on his appointment to the upper house in 2008?

More specifically, did the prime minister tell the House of Commons that Duffy had done so when asked about the pre-appointment residency vetting process back on April 22?

New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair believes that he did, and he's now challenging Harper to prove it.

"You might recall that on April 22, the prime minister claimed that Mr. Duffy had signed a declaration about his residence in Prince Edward Island prior to his — the prime minister's — naming Mr. Duffy as a senator from Prince Edward Island," he told reporters outside caucus on Wednesday.

"Yesterday, I was able to ask him about a phantom declaration that he already told us about in April regarding Mr. Duffy's residency."

On Tuesday, Mulcair noted, after a week of what he described as "our usual [Paul] Calandra nonsense" during Harper's absence, he had finally been able to question the prime minister directly about his earlier statement.

"Is the prime minister willing to show that declaration to Canadians?" he asked during question period.

"Where is that declaration that Mike Duffy signed before he was appointed to the Senate?"

In response, Harper simply repeated what has become the standard reply to virtually all questions related to his former senator.

Court 'will reach its own conclusions': PM

"Mr. Speaker, as I have said on a number of occasions, the government follows constitutional practices that have been clear for almost 150 years," he told the House.

"It is Mr. Duffy's actions, and no one else's, that are before the court."

The court, he concluded, will reach its own conclusions.

"As you saw, he's not able to give a consequential answer," Mulcair told reporters.

"If the prime minister has such a document, it would provide a great deal of explanation if he were to simply give it to the Canadian public, but he's not able to give an answer, and he doesn't seem to have the document," he noted.

"I'd never want anyone to conclude that Stephen Harper didn't tell them the truth, so I'd like him to clarify that for us. He claims that Mr. Duffy made that declaration prior to his — the prime minister — naming him as the senator for Prince Edward Island. I think Canadians have a right to get that information."

No specific reference to Duffy

But a quick check of the official record suggests Harper was careful not to mention Duffy directly in his April 22 answer.

In response to Mulcair's request for a "yes or no" answer as to whether he had made sure Duffy met the residency requirements, Harper offered the following reply: "Mr. Speaker, according to constitutional practice, all senators must make such a declaration."

He did not explicitly say he had received such a declaration from Duffy — nor, indeed, does the constitution include any such provision.

That didn't stop Mulcair from returning to the issue on Wednesday, which, in turn prompted the prime minister to return to his usual reply — without any further mention of a declaration.

NDP riled by non-answers

Earlier this week, the New Democrats called on House Speaker Andrew Scheer to wade into what has become a daily standoff in the Commons over the government's refusal to reply to questions on the Senate appointment process.

The complaint was triggered by the one-line response to a written parliamentary question submitted by New Democrat MP Charlie Angus in March."The government does not comment on matters before the court."

Duffy's criminal trial on 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery is currently on hiatus, but is set to resume on June 1.

In the meantime, the NDP's questioning over precisely what, if any, vetting was done before Duffy was named to the post in the first place will almost certainly continue.

About the Author

Kady O'Malley covered Parliament Hill for CBC News until June, 2015.

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