‘Honour system’ gone, but Quebec senators still don’t have to prove property
Video: Liberal Sen. Serge Joyal explains the rules for Quebec senators
OTTAWA – Quebec senators still don’t have to provide ongoing proof they meet a key requirement to sit in the upper house despite the fact that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives declared the “honour system” dead.
In the midst of an expense scandal that rocked the upper house, former government leader Sen. Marjory LeBreton said in May: “There’s no more, no more of the honour system around this place.”
“When Senators put in their expense accounts and sign their name to it, that has to be accompanied by the appropriate receipts,” said LeBreton, following expense audits of senators Mac Harb, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau.
But honour is evidently alive and well when it comes to a Constitutional requirement for Quebec senators.
Quebec is the only province where senators are appointed to a specific electoral division, defined by 24 boundaries etched out on a coloured map and established in 1859.
As set out in the Constitution Act 1867, senators are required to live in the division or own $4,000 worth of property there before they are formally admitted to the Senate.
Other Canadian senators must own property worth at least $4,000 but can live anywhere in the province. The Conservatives have asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on this requirement in their upcoming consideration of the government’s Senate reform bill.
After providing initial proof to the Privy Council Office and the Senate clerk, Quebec senators don’t have to continue showing documentation that they still own the property.
Instead, they simply make a written declaration at the beginning of each session that they meet the requirements of the upper house.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said senators should be compelled to prove they meet requirements to sit in the Senate.
“This is a very disgraced institution, because these senators have abused the public trust, and show absolutely no sense of accountability,” he said.
“They should be able to prove if they actually meet the Constitutional requirements to be in the Senate. And so far some of them seem to be big failures on that front.”
Global News contacted several Quebec senators asking if they can provide proof they satisfy the land-owning requirement.
Some, such as Conservative Senators Judith Seidman and Jean-Guy Dagenais, and Liberals Joan Fraser and Serge Joyal, provided specifics about their addresses.
But others were tight-lipped when confronted with the request.
For example, the office of embattled former Conservative Senator Brazeau is having a difficult time providing evidence he is a land owner in his division of Repentigny.
At first his office said he might own property in or near Chertsey, Que., but later his spokeswoman said she was unable to access the files to confirm the data.
“I am confirming that he (Brazeau) owns property as per the Senate rules. I regret that I am unable to provide you with anything more specific at this time as I do not have access to the information,” Debby Simms, Brazeau’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
In the town of Repentigny, there is a property registered to a Patrick Brazeau but when Global News contacted him, he said he wasn’t the senator.
And there is no way to find out from the Senate itself.
“We do not have this information and that we respectfully suggest you refer to Senator Brazeau’s office,” Senate spokeswoman Brigitte Lemay wrote in an email.
The new government leader in the Senate, Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan, refused an interview request for this story, but did provide information regarding his property in St-Eustache.
Liberal Sen. Joyal, who owns property in Saint-Christophe-d’Arthabaska in his Senatorial district of Kennebec, said he’s never been asked by the Senate to prove he still owns the property. Records show he owns a $28,100 lot.
“I’ve never been asked by the clerk of the Senate to show, you know, clearly that I have still the tax bill for that property,” he said.
But Joyal says he would have “no hesitation” with sending a copy of his land tax or school tax bill to the Senate.
“I would not see why a person would not maintain that,” he said.
“It’s pretty well known that you know before you’re sworn in as a senator as I mentioned, you have to show to the privy council that you own that property, so once you have done it once, you know that you have to maintain it.”
© 2013 Shaw Media