Independent senator claims he passed Senate-devised test to prove residency
Senator Patrick Brazeau wants a Senate committee that ordered him to repay thousands of dollars in living and travel expenses to explain its decision in a public meeting.
Brazeau said in press release from his office dated Tuesday that he’s seeking clarification about the ruling and will explore options to see if it can be overturned.
Brazeau continues to insist that his primary residence is in Maniwaki, Que., and that he shouldn’t have to repay money he charged for maintaining another residence near Ottawa, even though an audit by the private firm Deloitte determined he spent only 10 per cent of his time in Maniwaki over an 18-month period.
Brazeau was appointed as a Conservative senator in 2009 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He now sits as an Independent after being forced out of the Conservative caucus because he is facing criminal charges for sexual assault.
The Senate ordered Brazeau on May 9 to repay $48,000 in expenses because it found he had wrongly declared his primary residence is in Maniwaki, about 135 kilometres from Ottawa.
The $48,000 figure the Senate says Brazeau owes covers the rent he claimed for a townhouse in Gatineau, Que., a short distance from Parliament Hill, as well as mileage he claimed for driving back and forth from Maniwaki. The Senate calculated that amount based on a period from April 2011 to the present.
Senators whose primary residences are at least 100 kilometres from Ottawa can charge travel and living expenses for maintaining a second residence in the capitol.
In his press release, Brazeau makes reference to an amount of $34,699 and $144.97 in travel expenses that he disputes he owes. It’s not clear why he used those figures rather than the $48,000 the Senate says he must repay.
Brazeau says he passed test for primary residence
Brazeau claims he passed the test devised by the Senate to determine primary residence. In its audit of Brazeau’s expenses, Deloitte found that his driver’s licence, health card and income tax form had addresses that matched his address in Maniwaki, and that he was also able to prove he voted in Maniwaki.
“Senator Patrick Brazeau has fully and completely co-operated with Deloitte LLP regarding his residency. All documents have been found to be in order. Deloitte concludes Senator Brazeau meets all 4 Primary Residence Indicators,” the audit says.
In February, the Senate committee on internal economy, the body that monitors senators’ expenses, recommended a test of what it called four indicators — driver’s licence, health card, income tax form and voting location — to determine primary residency.
Deloitte applied the indicators in its examination of Brazeau’s expenses, as well as in Senator Mike Duffy’s and Senator Mac Harb’s. However, Deloitte also noted, although the constitution states a senator must be a resident of the province he or she is appointed from, there is no clear definition of residency.
Brazeau says it’s unclear how the Senate committee could have come to the conclusion that he owed money for inappropriately claiming expenses for a secondary residence in Gatineau, “when there is no clear definition of what, for purposes of their own policy, constitutes a primary residence.”
In his press release, Brazeau also points out that “it remains unclear” if all other sitting senators meet the primary residency requirements.
In its audits of Duffy and Harb, Deloitte found that neither senator met all four indicators.
Harb has said he will fight the order to repay funds, and has resigned from the Liberal caucus.
NDP asks for legal opinion to be made public
On Tuesday, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus released two letters asking senators to publicly release legal opinions on the residency requirements for sitting in the Senate. Angus referred to an interview government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton did on CBC Radio’s The House.
LeBreton told host Evan Solomon that she had no doubt Duffy, a fellow Conservative, was a “Prince Edward Islander.” She added, “I got a legal opinion as the leader of the government in the Senate from people that I rely on. And I got that way before this, at the beginning of this year I got a legal opinion.”
Duffy has been claiming that his primary residence is in P.E.I. and that his house in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, is a secondary residence for which he charged expenses. However he voluntarily repaid $90,000 before the Deloitte audits were made public, saying that he had made a mistake in interpreting the rules.
LeBreton said, in a statement Tuesday, “Liberal Senator Mac Harb and Independent Senator Patrick Brazeau must immediately repay inappropriately claimed expenses or the Senate will seize the funds.”
LeBreton issued a separate statement Wednesday in response to Angus’s letters. “Senator Duffy maintains a residence in P.E.I., holds property in P.E.I. and meets all the other qualifications of being a senator. If a senator holds property and maintains a residence in the province from which they are appointed they are qualified to sit in the Senate.”