July 16th, 2015

NDP REALITY CHECK: Did Conservatives and Liberals ignore constitutional residency requirements when rubber-stamping Senate appointments?

When you go into a job interview, you can normally expect to answer questions about your basic qualifications for a job. In the case of Canadian senators, that doesn’t seem to have happened.

The Constitution is clear: Senators need to be residents of the province they represent. So why are so many Senators now facing questions about whether they are?

  • Mike Duffy
  • Pamela Wallin
  • Patrick Brazeau
  • Mac Harb
  • Sharon Carstairs
  • Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu
  • Rose-Marie Losier-Cool
  • William Rompkey
  • Rod Zimmer
  • Carolyn Stewart Olsen
  • Dennis Glenn Patterson

In fact, the question of how residency is determined is central to the Duffy trial:

Senator Duffy was probably ineligible to sit as a senator, and to sit in the Senate as a representative of Prince Edward Island…He was constitutionally eligible to have been appointed from the province of Ontario, but that is not what happened. -Crown Prosecutor Mark Holmes, Mike Duffy trial, April 7,2015

The former law clerk to the Senate testified it was the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council Office to ensure that all appointees met this constitutional requirement.

And yet, an access to information request revealed yesterday that the Privy Council Office has no records related to the question of whether Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen, Senator Dennis Glen Patterson, or Senator Rod Zimmer met the residency requirements for their Senate appointments.

The Governor General has also been clear that he has no role.

So were the Conservatives and the Liberals in such a rush to appoint their friends to plum Senate jobs that they just forgot to ask if they happened to live in the province they represented?

For seven years Carolyn Stewart Olsen served as a senior aide to Stephen Harper, first as his personal press secretary and then as his director of communications. It’s hard to imagine that when he appointed her to the Senate, he didn’t know that she was a long-time resident of Ottawa – not New Brunswick.

As the questions pile up, it’s becoming increasingly clear that when making Senate appointments, Stephen Harper wasn’t looking out for Canadians – or the rules: he was looking after his friends.

Canadians deserve better.