Sunday, 19 May 2013

Senate Residency Requirements


The easy part of analysing the ongoing scandal gripping Canadian senators' Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin that culminated in their decisions to leave the Conservative caucus over the last two days is condemning them as individuals.  These two people were Conservative appointees, appointees of a Prime Minister who in a previous life admonished the Senate for its uselessness, patronage, waste and culture of entitlement and who it turns out, through this saga, came to embody those very things.  The comment boards on line show a lot of booing, name-calling and righteous indignation, but there is no need to let our emotions get the better of us on this issue.  There is no debate to get fired up over.  These two individuals represent geographical regions they do not actually reside in, and so the multiple six figures of travel and housing expenses they have claimed over the last three years are invalid and bogus.  Simple.  And if you think resigning from the Conservative caucus means they quit their jobs or have somehow been punished, think again.  They will continue to sit in the Senate, collecting 168,000 in salary a year with impunity.  We as a nation are powerless to do anything about it.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, as the Conservative government stymied all attempts to hold it to account and make it admit wrongdoing with lies, obfuscation, defiance and insults on several occasions during the 2006-2011 minority years. In fact, I've never heard a Conservative party apology or admission of wrongdoing in my life.  That's how these guys roll: they're divine.  So don't expect any accountability now that they have a majority: bring on the next wave of patronage appointments of party-friendly hacks and the next prorogue.  Nothing else to see here, so save your negative emotions for more important things.

But while we're here, let's ask ourselves why does it matter that a Senator is a "full-time" resident of PEI or Wadena, Saskatchewan?  Does somebody (especially big important Senators who worked for CTV in Ontario for 40 years) really need to be in their little remote buttfuck community when they already spend over 150-200 days a year in Ottawa?  Can't property ownership, historical ties and regular visits suffice?  After all, it's not a requirement for Canadians to live where they work, including in instances with real economic consequences like overpaid city workers whose wages are indexed to the high cost of living in that city fuelling real estate bubbles in the suburbs.  It's a really badly kept secret that many MPs, including the two opposition party leaders who intend to make hay out of this Senate scandal, do not actually live in their ridings.  This is well known yet is accepted and does not dominate headlines.  Are we past caring where people actually live in our new "global village", in which it can be argued that location matters less than ever? I answered yes when I wrote about the mobility of labour and the impossibility of stopping it two days go.

In this case the answer is still no.

When it comes to a position that almost exclusively consists of privileges that are inherited from the times of the aristocracy, residency does matter.  You are getting paid a ridiculous amount of money to represent a region; it is an insult to people in that region and to Canadian taxpayers to not reside in it.  Residency, despite our advances in travel and technology, is not a passé requirement; there is no substitute for living in a community, supporting its businesses, having your kids in its schools, using its roads, parks, and medical facilities and knowing to see people who walk down its streets.  Everybody has to do this somewhere - I have done it many places - but its hard to think of another job it as essential for as politician.  Think of how hollow, vague, and corny the average politician's speech is, and then imagine it after you find out they don't even live in the district whose name "The people of..." they repeat with tourette's like repetitiveness.  Forcing politicians to live in the riding they represent would go a long way to ending the culture of entitlement so endemic in the Canadian political class; by forcing them to adhere to basic bureaucratic framework like everyone else (like living where you say you live), we eliminate one more opportunity for crass political opportunism.

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