Published on February 06, 2013
Senator Mike Duffy speaks during the Maritime Energy Association's annual dinner in Halifax on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. Duffy represents Prince Edward Island in the Senate but there is some controversy about his residency relating to housing allowances.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Devaan Ingraham
Published on February 05, 2013
This is a photo of Mike Duffy's residence, a newly renovated home on Friendly Lane in Cavendish. The lane was still hidden under 15 centimetres of snow on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 when this photo was taken.
Conservative Senator Mike Duffy says he will pay back the thousands of dollars he has claimed for living expenses in Ottawa but maintains he is a resident of Prince Edward Island.
Duffy has faced a storm of controversy over the past month as questions about his residency and living expense claims have dominated national headlines.
On Friday evening, Duffy admitted he might have erred when filling out his declaration of primary and secondary residences.
"The Senate rules on housing allowances aren't clear, and the forms are confusing. I filled out the Senate forms in good faith and believed I was in compliance with the rules. Now it turns out I may have been mistaken," Duffy wrote in a public statement Friday.
"Rather than let this issue drag on, my wife and I have decided that the allowance associated with my house in Ottawa will be repaid."
Duffy and three other senator's living expense claims are currently the subject of an external audit.
Duffy has claimed more than $33,000 in housing allowance for his home in Ottawa since September 2010, even though he bought the home in Kanata before his appointment to the red chamber.
It's this money he says he will now pay back.
But the Senate is also seeking legal advice on how to deal with the issue of Duffy's residency in P.E.I. after questions were raised about whether he is a true resident of the province.
All senators sign a yearly declaration saying their primary residence is in the province they represent.
Duffy has claimed a cottage he owns in Cavendish as his primary residence.
But P.E.I. government tax records identify Duffy and his wife as non-resident owners of this cottage. As non-residents, they pay 50 per cent more in property taxes.
The Guardian spent time in Cavendish earlier this month and noted the road on which Duffy's cottage is located had not been plowed after a recent storm. Neighbours and local year-round residents of the resort municipality said they have rarely, if ever, seen the senator in the area.
Duffy explained to reporters earlier this week he rents a place in Charlottetown during the snowy winter months. The Guardian has learned he stays at the Inns on Great George, a four-and-a-half star hotel, when he is in Charlottetown.
"Rather than let this issue drag on, my wife and I have decided that the allowance associated with my house in Ottawa will be repaid," Conservative Senator Mike Duffy
But other than a few brief comments, the journalist-turned-senator has avoided all media requests on the issue of his residency and even exited a recent public appearance through a hotel kitchen to avoid reporters.
Then on Friday, Duffy requested a live interview on CBC Charlottetown's local supper hour newscast after which he traveled to the Delta hotel for a live interview with CTV to make the announcement he would pay the living expenses he has claimed back.
When The Guardian approached him for comment, Duffy refused, saying only that he was 'too busy' before getting into his car and driving away.
Duffy told CBC he remains firm he is a true P.E.I. resident.
"I'm an Island resident and I'm entitled to be a senator, I've met all of those requirements. The question is really one of accounting."
But Malpeque MP Wayne Easter believes the question of Duffy's residency is yet unanswered.
It's a concern because senators are required by the Constitution to be residents of the provinces they represent, he said.
"The key question still remains with the residency requirements. That's still a huge question mark," Easter said
"(The Constitution) was drafted for a reason, it was so the senator of a region would represent the people of that region, would rub shoulders with them, would know how they live, know how difficult it is to get to the hospital in a snowstorm."
Senator David Tkachuk, who chairs the senate committee reviewing all senators' expenses, said Friday the committee had not yet heard formally from Duffy.
"We have committed to ensuring that all expenses are appropriate, that the rules governing expenses are appropriate and to report back to the public on these matters. The Steering Committee will be meeting to discuss this next week."
(With a file from Jordan Press of Postmedia News)