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When will the Minister of Democratic Reform reform democracy?

Photo: wikipedia commons

Dear Minister Poilievre:

This week's Deloitte audit on Senator Pamela Wallin has raised numerous questions about a troubling lack of accountability in the Senate.

One of these questions is around the residency requirements for Senators and whether Ms. Wallin is even eligible to sit in the Senate. As a number of Conservative and Liberal Senators are having problems proving they meet the residency requirements themselves, it isn't likely Canadians are comfortable turning to these same senators for accountability.

I am asking you, as the new Minister for Democratic Reform, to undertake a review of both residency requirements as well as the process through which potential Senators are vetted, in order to prevent problems like these from happening in the future.

From the beginning of her term as Senator, there have been reports in the media that Ms. Wallin's primary address is Toronto, not Wadena, Saskatchewan as she has claimed. And yet, your government appointed her to represent Saskatchewan in the Senate. The Deloitte audit should have been an opportunity for Ms. Wallin to set the record straight. However the audit failed to provide proof she resides primarily in Saskatchewan, and in fact indicated she lives more in Toronto than either Ottawa or Saskatchewan.

The definition of primary residence is provided in the Senator's Travel Policy, which came into force June 5, 2012:

The residence identified by the senator as his/her main residence and is situated in the province or territory represented by the senator.

Furthermore, in December of 2012, the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy requested Senators provide the following information as proof of residency:

1. Copy of driver's license,
2. Copy of provincial health card,
3. Relevant information from personal income tax return providing provincial tax information, and
4. A signed statement indicating where they vote.

According to the Deloitte audit, Senator Wallin failed to meet three of the four requirements; conclusively meeting only one and providing insufficient information for one other.

1. Driver's License - Met
2. Provincial Health Card - Not met, not address of declared primary residence
3. Income Tax Return - Not met, not address of declared primary residence
4. Signed Statement re: voting - Insufficient information to determine whether she was registered to vote in the same area as declared primary residence

As Ms. Wallin was only able to establish one of the requirements, I am sure you will agree that she has failed to provide sufficient proof of residency, as outlined in Section 23 (5) of the Constitution Act, 1867:

He shall be resident in the Province for which he is appointed.

I also draw your attention to Section 31(5) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which states:

If he ceases to be qualified in respect of Property or of Residence; provided, that a Senator shall not be deemed to have ceased to be qualified in respect of Residence by reason only of his residing at the Seat of the Government of Canada while holding an Office under that Government requiring his Presence there.

Pamela Wallin may never have qualified in the first place. And common sense dictates that background checks done by your government at the time of her appointment would have identified this problem. 

This issue of background checks has also come forward in the case of Conservative appointee Patrick Brazeau. A recent Canadian Press story highlights the question of whether or not an adequate background check was conducted into Mr. Brazeau, and that if it had been done he may have been found unqualified to sit as a Senator.

I ask that your government undertake a review of Senator Wallin's appointment and make public any concerns about Ms. Wallin's appointment raised as part of the appointment process. Furthermore, we request you review your other senate appointments, such as Mr. Duffy, in terms of the residency requirement for Senators in the Constitution.

Lastly, we ask you to provide Canadians an outline of the process your government undertakes to establish eligibility and suitability for potential Senate appointments, as well as what steps you take afterwards to ensure the Senator's you have appointed actually respect and comply with the rules of the Senate. The Senate is now facing an unprecedented crisis of credibility. With this in mind, I urge you to take quick action.

When the Senate and government of the day is unwilling to even address whether Senate appointees are eligible to sit, it serves to further erode any remaining confidence in the institution. It also erodes any remaining public confidence in the Prime Minister's promises to set a higher standard for accountable and transparent government.

Yours sincerely,

Charlie Angus, MP
Timmins-James Bay

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