Thursday, February 07, 2013

Is Duffy Toast?

This story has been kicking around for a few days.   Former  CTV News Conservative party apologist turned Harper senator, Mike Duffy, seems to be in a great deal of hot water.  

I've known Duffy since the early 70's and I always knew him to be a full-time Ottawa guy.   He worked in Ottawa.   He owned property in the Ottawa area.  He was from Prince Edward Island but it's almost commonplace for prominent Ottawans to hail from someplace else.

Then Duffy was appointed by Steve Harper to the Canadian senate, ostensibly as a representative of Prince Edward Island.   The Constitution (s. 23(5)) requires senators to be resident in the province they're appointed to represent.   So Duffy is supposed to be primarily resident in Prince Edward Island.  Apparently senators even have to swear to the fact of residence.  And, because Duffy is supposedly resident in P.E.I., he's been able to claim more than 40-grand in government housing allowances.

This is where the facts get sticky.   Duffy and his wife are the registered owners of a modest, cottage property in P.E.I. but, after that, the residency thing gets clouded.   That cottage is taxed at a higher, non-resident rate because Duffy has not been recognized as a resident of P.E.I.   I assume Duffy has been voluntarily paying non-resident property taxes on the cottage.

Now, back to this business about swearing to be ordinarily resident in Prince Edward Island.   Duffy wasn't registered to vote in the last P.E.I. elections.   However he was registered and did vote in the last Ontario elections.    Now as far as I can tell, Ontario has a fairly loose residency requirement so it is possible that a person who is resident for part of the time in an electoral district but permanently resident somewhere else can still vote in Ontario elections.   Prince Edward Island, by contrast, requires residence at least six months prior to the election in order to vote.

And then there was the matter of Mike's P.E.I. healthcare card.  He doesn't have one.   Yet when senators were asked to provide drivers' licenses, healthcare cards, provincial tax returns and other evidence of their actual residency, Duffy's people got on the blower to Charlottetown to see if the senator could get a health card fast tracked to him, pronto.  But there's a problem.  P.E.I. has a 3-month waiting period for healthcare eligibility and the provincial government wasn't willing to waive that for senator Duffy.   Senators were given a January 31 deadline for submitting the specified documentation.   No word yet on what he came up with on provincial tax returns but after 40-years in Ottawa, I'd be surprised if senator Mike hasn't been filing Ontario returns.

Today our every move is logged and can be easily reconstructed from credit card, cell phone and travel records.   It will be a ridiculously easy matter to identify just were senator Duffy has been spending his time since his appointment and, specifically, how often he has been resident in Prince Edward Island.   Documentary evidence including his tax records and health care history will add clarification.

The next question is what it means if Duffy hasn't been eligible to represent P.E.I. since his appointment?    How many others aren't entirely kosher either?   Let's face it, you get a lifetime (75) appointment to Ottawa and you settle in.   Rules bend.   But what if you were never resident when you were appointed?   What if you were never eligible to be appointed to the senate?   Can the defect be cured after the fact?   What of the salary and benefits you've collected in the interval?   What of the oath you've sworn as to your residency?  Have you perjured yourself?  Have you defrauded the government of money and benefits knowing you weren't resident in the province you purported to represent?   Are you liable to make restitution? What of the votes you have cast while ineligible?

The situation gives rise to a great many questions but, in fairness, they won't be answered until the facts become clear.   Still, they do have to be answered.


Matthew Day said...

Good points you raised in the last paragraph. It isn`t like P.E.I. has an overabundance of Senators to supposedly represent their interests in Ottawa. I bet they could sue the Federal Government for illegitimately giving their Senatoe seat to Ontario. No question though, if Duffy actually swore a false oath, that makes it fraud doesn`t it?

The Mound of Sound said...

Matthew, I honestly don't know what to make of this. Much depends on facts we don't yet have and narrow interpretations of sometimes ambiguous legal terms. Yet even if Duffy does escape any serious consequences, his reputation is sullied and that makes him a liability to the Harper government. His days may be numbered regardless.

Elliott Taylor said...

He should be ousted. Regardless of any actual callousness or malfeasance on Duffy's part, that he would put himself in a position of such damning optics leads me to question his fitness to occupy our house of "sober second thought." Indeed it makes me wonder if he's lost his mind.

The Mound of Sound said...

That same thought crossed my mind, Elliott. Maybe there has been some sort of mental decline going back to well before he earned his senate reward from Harper. He's had some pretty severe health problems including, if memory serves, bypass surgery. 40-years in Ottawa might have taught him that rules are meant to be broken or ignored.

What does this say of Harper's PMO? Surely they're supposed to vet prospective senate appointments. Maybe it's "what Steve wants, Steve gets" and no questions asked.

Another interesting detail gleaned from a PEI paper is that the Duffy residence is indeed a cottage property. He and his wife applied for a half-rate, municipal garbage collection service available for cottage owners. It's a summer-season only arrangement.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see the electricity bills for the PEI "residence" and the Ottawa address as well. Among other things, it's common for people to have the electricity disconnected at their cottages after the summer season is over.

Even if it wasn't turned off, usage would tell a tale.