Fictional creatures of Canada

Fictional creatures of Canada
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The Constitution of Canada is an obtuse and badly-written document, but at least one clause seems to be clear enough. When the prime minister goes around picking senators to represent Canada’s 10 provinces, declares Article IV, sec. 23 (5), they “shall be resident in the Province for which he is appointed.”

A few clauses later, however, things begin to get a bit tricky. 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,” clarifies 31 (5). Translated into 21st century English, the Constitution is clarifying that it’s okay if a senator from, say, Vancouver elects to purchase a condo in Ottawa rather than rack up enormous plane bills flying back-and-forth every time there’s a vote.

But despite this constitutional concession, some Senators still felt commuting was a ritual too important to concede. They need to visit their constituents and so forth, even though they don’t actually have any constituents on account of the fact that no one ever elected them. (Indeed, I question if any Canadian, anywhere, has ever even met his or her senator before. I’m not even being facetious — post in the comments if you have, because I’m genuinely curious about the context).

Anyhow, in 1985 the Senate stuck some amendments on the Parliament of Canada Act allowing the government to front “reasonable travel and living expenses” of any senator patriotic enough to maintain a “primary residence” in whatever far-away province they were appointed to represent. Many senators quickly opted-in.

There was no monitoring or enforcement to ensure senators were living where they said they were, or even a hard and fast definition of what precisely constituted a “primary residence” (as opposed to some other kind) in the first place. There was only the honour system, but that was okay since Canadian senators are all valiant men of honour. And maintaining that consistent standard of honour is why they can never be elected, see.

Late last year some journalists began to suspect the system was being abused. Near as I can tell, this was mostly the result of Prime Minister Harper’s 2008 decision to appoint noted Ottawa journalist Mike Duffy to the Senate. Duffy, who was picked to represent the tiny province of Prince Edward Island, quickly opted into the living-outside-of-Ottawa slush fund, claiming more than $33,000 in absentee living allowances, which naturally caused all his journalist buddies in the capital region to call BS. Nice try, Duffy, but we all see you at the supermarket, they said.

In February Duffy fessed up, claiming he had found the Senate’s demand he accurately state which  which province he lives in “confusing,” and promptly paid back all his ill-obtained allowances (though breaking news informs us he was only able to do this via a loan secured from the Prime Minister’s chief of staff).

The Duffy scandal (followed by a similar controversy about the living circumstances of Liberal senator Marc Harb, plus perennial tabloid darling, Senator Patrick Brazeau) prompted the Senate to stage a comprehensive audit of all contentious senatorial residency claims, and the report came back this week.

The findings? The three embattled senators had pocketed a combined total of over $200,000 in illegitimate out-of-province fees since being appointed. According to Kelly McParland in the National Post, “none of the three spent even a third of their time in the home they claimed as their main residence,” with Senator Brazeau in particular only spending 10% of the last year in his Quebec “home.”

Following the report’s release, Senator Harb was expelled from — er “quit,” Liberal Party — and has, along with Brazeau pledged to fight the charges on Duffianian grounds of confusion. The RCMP now says it will get involved, as well it should, since it’s hard to imagine any other Canadian claiming tens of thousands of dollars of work expenses on false pretenses without the cops getting involved.

But if the legal destiny of the men remains unclear, one thing that decidedly ain’t is the senators’ political futures. Unless they choose to freely resign out of shame, there’s almost no way they can be removed from office. The Prime Minister has no power to fire them, and under the rules of the Constitution, the Senate itself can only vote to expel if they get convicted of an “infamous crime,” which subsequent legislation has clarified to mean an indictable offense, as in, something extremely serious like murder or treason. As opposed to mere embezzlement.

At best, the Senate could do to Duffy and Harb what it already did to Senator Brazeau when he was arrested for pushing his girlfriend down the stairs (a non-indictable offense) last winter — namely, grant him a paid leave of absence for harming the “dignity and reputation of the Senate and public trust and confidence in Parliament.”

Yeah, that’ll do it.


  1. Dan

    JJ, we need to start a petition to have you appointed to the Senate when you turn 30. Then you have 45 years of publicly-financed leisure to look forward to. It's almost like being a member of the Royal family.

  2. Guest

    Wow – I had no idea that Canada's senate worked like this.
    We had an appointed Upper House – of course, that was over 100 years ago when we were still a colony of mother England.
    The appointment lasts until the age of 75 and all they have to do to earn $132k a year is show up and not commit a serious crime or become bankrupt!? Wow. You Canadians have really got your own little House of Lords there.
    It honestly blows my mind that an advanced, western, first world country that isn't Britain would have such a peculiar anachronism. It just seems so undemocratic and the distribution between provinces also is just way out of whack.
    You know those World's Best Job competitions where you have to review waterslides or live on a tropical island… Canada has already got the position covered 105 times.

  3. John O'Brian

    I occasionally consort with monarchists, and they never cease to protest at the comparison to the house of lords. There are differences in purpose and process, but I think if anything the senate system is worse. No one expects lords to be reasonable or intelligent or responsible. Someone actually PICKED these people, and said with a straight face that they were a good choice to safeguard the nation from the excesses of parliament. And then wrote it down on paper and asked the Queen to approve them, specifically, for exactly that job and no other. No one expects much of the Bishop of Chester in the House of Lords, and if he happens to be an idiot then he's God's idiot.

  4. Taylor

    "No one expects lords to be reasonable or intelligent or responsible."

    A bit harsh, especially considering the British Empire's final Court of Appeal was the Law Lords

  5. Psudo

    The line "It honestly blows my mind that an advanced, western, first world country that isn't Britain would have such a peculiar anachronism." made me lol.

  6. Guest

    I think we all expect a certain level of peculiar anachronisms from old Blighty, don't we?

  7. Psudo

    I laughed at the implication that "This is the worst idea any modern nation has ever had! Except Britain, 'cause Britain is just weird and/or terrible."

  8. Khar

    I've met several of Alberta's senators, and I've also met probably six or seven others. Mostly I met them at political events, where some person was at the front speaking who was of public import; a premier, or someone leading a federal party (or fighting for leadership). I actually still have the cards of a few of them, when they were passing them out.

    They do come around, but I have to admit that the best way to meet any senators, or even yours, is going to be heading to the party events or hitting up speeches and so forth where usually one or two end up being in the audience, especially if they are from the area. I actually knew of Urquhart before he made a run for the senate himself, here in Alberta, where there were "elections" of sorts, so it would have been interesting if he had made it in, given he was fairly high up in the department of Political Science here. Since then I've met him a lot of times, would have been able to say I'd definitely met one of my senators if that was the case.

  9. Giulio

    Well, I live in the same building as my Senator Art Eggleton. Who I suppose is my Senator, although as you correctly point out they don't really have constituents. That being said, I've never really met the man. Although I may have held the elevator for him once.

  10. Taylor

    I've met Romeo Dallaire, though I don't think he's "my" senator.

  11. Jake_Ackers

    I know the article is about Canada but I've actually met several US Senators although never my own. Congressmen too. But that's because I was politically active and did internships. On the other hand, my two federal Senators only come to the state from DC when its election time and are pretty much useless (at least mine are). Same goes for my previous Congressman (I moved). State level Senators are a lot easier to see and you can actually come right in and talk to them. Well at least some.

    So it's the same as in Canada with one exception. Only politicians I see around regularly are the ones in the minority party or always at risk of losing an election. Otherwise they tend to stay in DC or in the state capital and do nothing. Would direct elections change anything? For some but many still would be quite frankly useless unless they are directly from a powerful state.

    However, one solution would be to force them to be appointed by the state legislature. State/provincial legislature is up way more often (it varies but bare with me here) in addition the naturally up for election time of the Senator. So every couple/few years or so, even with a parliamentarian system, the Senator would HAVE or at least feel obligated to appear for a period of time in the state/provincial level. Thus people would care about local and sub-national politics. Money would be less of an issue for federal elections.

    Plus in respects to this appointment issue. All it points out is that even when politicians are given the chance to vote whichever way they want, as there is no pressure to dance to poll numbers, they are still useless. Pretty much is, we need term limits or a stronger non-election day accountability. After all the reactionary part of a legislature is the lower house not the upper house. But the upper house at least should have the every so often sub-national check to keep them loyal to their constituents.

  12. OldsVistaCruiser

    Here in Pennsylvania, we booted Sen. Rick Santorum (yes, the same guy who ran for president) because his primary residence was in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He sent his kids to school there, owned a fancy home in suburban Washington, yet rarely visited a condo in his home Commonwealth (4 states call themselves that – KY, MA, PA and VA) that was set up as just a paper residence.

    We gained the direct vote for senators nearly 100 years ago, and would never go back to the system where the state legislatures appointed senators.

  13. voncube

    Good toon but would have liked to see you do one on the BC Election instead. Bet you could have hit that one out of the park…

  14. Richard Hass

    Well, My home is exactly the same building as my Senator Art Eggleton. Who I guess is my Senator, although while you properly explain they just do not have ingredients. That being stated, I have never really met the guy. Although I might have held the elevator for him once. Dietas sanas

  15. Diego

    Good toon but would have liked to see you do one on the BC Election instead. Bet you could have hit that one out of the park… Mamparas


    Qq, we have to begin a petition to possess you hired towards the Senate whenever you turn 30. Then you've 45 many years of openly-funded leisure to anticipate. It's similar to joining the Royal family.

  17. diego lugano

    JJ, we need to start a petition to have you appointed to the Senate when you turn 30. Then you have 45 years of publicly-financed leisure to look forward to. It's almost like being a member of the Royal family.
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  18. Juan Lopez

    Good toon but would have liked to see you do one on the BC Election instead. Bet you could have hit that one out of the park