The free hand senators have: Once you’re in, you’re in

Julian Wolfe
February 8th, 2013

The senate is supposed to be a chamber of sober thought. Once the partisan House of Commons has finished getting legislation passed, the Senate is to revise it and amend it where necessary. In recent years, however, the senate has become as much a political obstacle as the House and not without its fair share of grievances  Canadians can fire a corrupt parliamentarian but getting rid of a corrupt senator is a much harder task.

Once you’ve been appointed to the senate, you can stay there until you are forced to retire at the age of 75. Once you’ve been appointed to the senate, you can rest assured that regardless how much controversy dogs you down, you will keep that senate seat. Once you’ve been appointed to the senate, you’ll get a 69 day working year along with an annual salary of $132,000, a slew of perks and a cushy retirement.

However, under some circumstances, a senator can be fired. Under the Constitution, failing to give an Attendance or betrays the country or going bankrupt are some of those options but corruption, theft, and fraud are not sufficient cause to fire a senator, unless the courts hand down a jail sentence.

This means that despite the controversies over Housing Allowance, both Senators Patrick Brazeau and Conservative Mike Duffy will not be held to account for defrauding Canadian taxpayers. It also means that charges of domestic and sexual assault are only enough to get Brazeau kicked out of the Conservative caucus, but as long as he isn’t found guilty, he can still keep the seat, the salary, and all of the other perks that Canadians are collectively paying for. During a court period, the most that would happen to Brazeau is a forced leave and a loss of benefits over the time frame.

The last time a senator met the conditions to be fired, he got to keep his pension by resigning. Former Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne was found guilty of fraud and breach of trust for making false travel claims worth $10,000 and for using an office staffer to cut trees at his cottage.

Former Liberal Senator Andrew Thompson was held in contempt of the senate after showing up for only 2 weeks in over 7 years of his mandate. Thompson was stripped of the salary but resigned and got to keep his pension.

If Brazeau isn’t found guilty in court hearings surrounding assault charges, he can stick around for another 37 years and despite his fraudulent claims of senate perks, he can rack up over $5 million by the time he retires.

Both Brazeau and Duffy have a lot of explaining to do when it comes to housing allowance. While former CTV reporter and newly minted Conservative senator Duffy dodged questions by running out a hotel kitchen’s door in Halifax, Brazeau’s false paper trail is stacking up by the day.

As Duffy ran from reporters who questioned his $33,000 housing allowance since 2010 for claiming that his cottage house in Prince Edward Island was his primary residence while he was spending most of his time in his Ottawa house, he told them “You should be doing adult work. Write about energy.” Public reports state that Duffy doesn’t qualify for the permanent residency that has got him the lower tax rates in the province.

Brazeau, meanwhile, has used his former father-in-law’s address in an aboriginal community to get an aboriginal income tax exemption from 2004 to 2008.

Residents of the Kitigan Zibi First Nation community said he doesn’t live there.

“I’ve never seen him,” resident Jean Guy Whiteduck said. “It’s right across from my place. I’ve never seen him there. He may have visited. That’s about it.”

Senators can claim up to $21,000 in housing and meal expenses annually if they can prove that they live at least 100km away from the Ottawa region. Both Duffy and Brazeau have failed to do such but despite this, they will continue to receive these payments and not be forced to reimburse taxpayers – or be fired for fraud.

Senate reform is long overdue. Senators should be held accountable and to the highest standards but it appears that with our current legal framework, senators have almost complete legal immunity. The housing allowance perk should be abolished, not only for the fact that it can be used as fraud, but for the fact that it is nothing more than an entitlement that many other Canadians don’t have but are somehow forced to pay for. Furthermore, the senate needs reform, the chamber is becoming a house of cronies that Prime Minister Harper has had a field day stacking. Perhaps it would be wise to put those 30 new MPs, and all the other backbench MPs to use. Abolish the senate and create an equivalent committee from elected MPs.

Do you think Senators have a free hand once their in? Should that change?

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   Categories: Accountability, Scandal, Senate


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