Conservative Senator Mike Duffy may call P.E.I. home, but P.E.I. considers him a non-resident.
Records obtained by The Guardian Tuesday from the provincial taxation and property division office show Duffy and his wife Heather are identified as non-resident owners of their Cavendish cottage and thus pay higher property taxes.
Prince Edward Island charges 50 per cent more in property taxes to owners who are not permanent residents of the Island.
In order to get the lower tax rate, one must reside in the province for 183 days consecutively.
The P.E.I. government does not currently offer Duffy the lower permanent resident rate and identifies him as a non-resident.
Malpeque MP Wayne Easter says this raises serious concerns about whether Duffy is meeting the Senate’s rules regarding senators' primary homes.
“If he’s paying the additional taxation, then it’s unlikely he’s meeting the residency requirements for senators,” Easter said.
“If you’re a resident of P.E.I., why would you pay double taxation? That needs to be checked out and hopefully the senate is checking that stuff out.”
Duffy has been in the spotlight in Ottawa over the last few months over questions that have been raised about his residency claims.
Senators are required to sign a declaration that says their primary residence is in the province they were appointed to represent.
Duffy claims his primary residence is a cottage he owns and renovated recently in Cavendish.
But Duffy lived and worked in Ottawa for years before his Senate appointment. He and his wife bought a house in Kanata five years before he was appointed to the Red Chamber.
That’s why questions have been raised over $33,000 he has claimed for living expenses in Ottawa since September 2010.
In Cavendish Tuesday, locals did not seem surprised questions about his residency have come up.
The lane on which his small beige cottage is located was not passable by vehicle, due to a snowstorm on Monday. But even though almost all secondary roads had been cleared by mid-day Tuesday, Duffy’s road – called Friendly Lane – was still hidden under 15 centimetres of snow. It did not appear anyone had tried to drive along the road since the snowfall.
Almost everyone The Guardian spoke with in Cavendish Tuesday said they have never seen Duffy in the area.
“We’ve never seen Mike Duffy, and he’s hard to miss,” said Morgan Eisenhaur.
He and his wife Debbie live year-round across a small field from the senator’s cottage.
They both said they believe Duffy should pay back the money he has claimed for living expenses in Ottawa, which they consider is his primary home.
“He should show some leadership on this, because he should know better,” Eisenhaur said.
Others in the area also said they have not seen the senator in the area, except at official municipal events or funding announcements.
When asked about his snow-covered lane, one resident said he did not remember seeing it plowed at all last winter.
“I bet you could put a surveillance camera on that lane and you wouldn’t see Mike Duffy coming or going through there,” another man said.
“If he’s paying the additional taxation, then it’s unlikely he’s meeting the residency requirements for senators,” - Malpeque MP Wayne Easter
Information from the taxation office also notes Duffy pays only half the amount permanent residents pay in trash collecting fees. This smaller rate is known as the ‘cottage fee’ reserved for seasonal residents.
Duffy’s non-resident status could also affect his health card application.
On Monday, the issue of Duffy seeking a health card made national headlines when it was discovered an official with his office contacted P.E.I. Health Minister Doug Currie’s office looking for a fast-tracked health card.
Duffy needed it before Jan. 31 to present to the senate committee currently investigating all senators’ residency claims and expenses.
But Duffy may find it difficult to qualify for a P.E.I. health card. The provincial government website says a health card will be issued only to someone who “makes his or her home and is ordinarily present, on an annual basis, for at least six months plus a day in Prince Edward Island.”
Duffy did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Full coverage in the print edition of The Guardian tomorrow.