Duffy's dilemma: has the PMO cut him loose?

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He doesn't have a provincial health card, he's not on the voter's list and even the tax man doesn't think he's a full-time resident. His next-door neighbour has never seen him and the snow around his place isn't marred by so much as a squirrel track.

But Mike Duffy is a P.E.I. senator and as such, occupies a $130,000 per year public office in the chamber of sober second thought. Given recent revelations, the senator would be well-advised to give some sober thought to the question of whether he's been accountable to taxpayers.

Whether Duffy was entitled - and that's the key word - to $33,000 in expenses from the Senate will be sorted out by the experts. That he felt himself entitled, perhaps in the tradition of David "I'm entitled to my entitlements" Dingwall, is obvious. That's why he claimed the cash in the first place.

That's also why his own party looks like it's cutting him loose.

Reporting in the Ottawa Citizen revealed that over roughly two years, Duffy claimed $33,413 in expenses for travel and maintenance of a second home in Ottawa. Senators are allowed to claim travel and living expenses to defray the costs of working in the capital.

That's not in doubt. The question is whether or not Duffy lives in Cavendish or in Kanata. Even Duffy's personal website notes that "Mike moved to Ottawa in 1971 and began covering Parliament Hill." He's still there, more than 40 years later.

Last year, during a review of Senate expenses, questions were raised about whether Duffy actually lived in P.E.I. as he claimed, or in Ontario. The facts were collected by an internal Senate board and then last Friday, passed on to outside auditors and lawyers. That's never a good sign.

The professionals are also investigating similar expense claims by Liberal Mac Harb and Conservative Patrick Brazeau. You'll know Brazeau as the senator turfed from the Tory caucus last week after his arrest on unrelated criminal charges.

Along the way it was revealed that Duffy tried to cadge a P.E.I. health card, on an expedited basis, from the Island government. The document would help him assert his residential bona fides.

However, the P.E.I. government and Health Minister Doug Currie saw no urgency in his application and no senatorial entitlement to special treatment. And rightly so. If the senator's not living on the Island, why would he need a P.E.I. health card?

Friday, with his situation getting blurred into the Brazeau mess, Duffy issued a statement saying he has a home in P.E.I. "as required by law," and insisting that "Canadians know I would never do anything to betray the public trust."

Fine words, since Duffy is a Conservative and Conservatives claim to be accountable. That's what got them elected, as accountable alternatives to the high-handed Liberals. With Duffy's commitment to that in doubt, is he in trouble with the Tory high command?

In the public mind, Duffy's expense problems are now tangled up with Brazeau's dirty-looking case, a fact that would not be taken lightly by the Prime Minister's Office. The PM himself appointed both of them. Sending their cases to the next investigative level suggests the party is distancing itself from their problems.

And it's all about the party. Remember Duffy got the job partly for his help destroying Stephane Dion during the 2008 election campaign. That's not to say that his appointment came as a direct reward for the brass-knuckle treatment of Dion. But it sure proved Duffy's loyalty to the Tory cause.

Turns out his real Senate job is telling folksy stories at Conservative fundraisers. But you have to wonder whether he'll be in demand much longer. A lot of Conservative donors will take a dim view of Ottawa's entitlement mindset.

Duffy needs his party now, but is it there for him? His expense claims were sent to the pros at the behest of a Tory-dominated committee. If headquarters was really behind him and believed he had done no wrong, the matter would never have gone to the auditors at Deloitte.

It could be that this time, the senator is on his own.

Dan Leger is a Halifax-based writer and commentator. Twitter: @Dantheeditor.


Organizations: Tory, Ottawa Citizen, Senate board

Geographic location: P.E.I., Ottawa, Iceland Cavendish Kanata Parliament Hill Ontario

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Recent comments

  • MgM
    February 12, 2013 - 15:03

    Duffy has lied and cheated his way into the Senate. If politics was fair Pat Mella would have been given that seat long ago and we would all be better off because of it. The most hard-working of the lot of PEI PCs was never properly rewarded for her years of commitment. Such is politics (the old boys' club) I guess!

    • John Ferguson
      May 18, 2013 - 15:28

      With all of these Senator's getting caught cheating the tax payer's why are they not treated like ordinary Canadians? If that was the average Canadian we would be facing a Judge.

  • Stewart P McMulligan
    February 12, 2013 - 08:23

    If Duffy's primary residence is in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata where he owns a big expensive house, then he does not meet the primary residency requirements to be a PEI Senator. That means Duffy should be removed from the Senate. How could Steven Harper have appointed Duffy as a PEI Senator if his primary residence has been in Ottawa for the last 40 years? Not only was Duffy cheating on his taxes, he was misrepresenting his qualifications for the job. And was PM Harper going along with the charade?

    • Ian
      February 12, 2013 - 16:09

      I don' know which is worse, Mike Duffy, or Liberal senator Mac Harb, who is either charged with or under RCMP investigation for Breach of Trust, who was the MP in downtown Ottawa for years then claims he lives 100 km away at his cottage as soon as he gets his senate appointment. As for the Heath card issue, he needs an Ontario card because he spends more than a certain number of days in Ontario and you can't hold two provincial cards or driver licences, so that issue is a red herring.

    February 12, 2013 - 07:25

    The allowance he claimed in a two year period is actually $42,800., not $33,000.

  • just the facts
    February 12, 2013 - 02:26

    Senator Duffy is being tried in the media court, regardless of the outcome of the investigation many have determined he did wrong. Why are we islanders so ready to abandon a fellow islander who actually has done well in the rest of Canada. We should be proud of what islanders achieve but no we are so quick to judge and charge as guilty even before any of us know the facts.

  • Ralph Smith
    February 11, 2013 - 21:32

    I think Duffy needs the money to support all the Cavendish potato patties and fries he must be eating trekking to and fro from Ottawa!

  • john
    February 11, 2013 - 20:31

    "Remember Duffy got the job partly for his help destroying Stephane Dion" Oh Really? And why did Michelle Jean and Adrienne Clarkson get THEIR jobs? Hmm? No it couldn't be they were media shills suckholing for the Liberals. Everyone knows journalists and the Liberal Party are faaaaarrrr too ethical for that!

  • intobed
    February 11, 2013 - 17:10

    I am sure if Harper disowns Duffy our provincial Reform Conservatives will embrace him with open arms. They think the same as Duffy does.

  • C.F.O.Taxpayer
    February 11, 2013 - 13:48

    Mike Duffy also received a Provincial credit of $216.81 on his cottage property tax bill by taking advantage of an "owner-occupied" exemption for a summer cottage that is not rented to a third party. This reduced his tax bill to only $1,559.12, but allowed him to claim $33,000 year in benefits. Why doesn't anybody ever offer me a deal like this?

  • hollinm
    February 11, 2013 - 08:50

    There is not a shred of evidence in this column that Duffy has been thrown overboard by the Party or the government. I guess something has to be written right. Nobody supports abusing taxpayers money and now that the Senate was investigatiing housing allowances it follows when the matter is not clear because residency is not defined it should be reviewed by an independent body. Similarly, for Harb and Brazeau. Harper will not condone the abuse of taxpayers money and so I suspect there will be some tough words spoken internally if it is proven that housing allowances are being abused by anybody.

    • mtlbcer
      February 11, 2013 - 09:51

      "Harper will not condone the abuse of taxpayers money" See: Clement, Tony; Gazebos

    • Jack Stewart
      February 12, 2013 - 01:03

      If these senators have defrauded taxpayers ie: their employer they should be fired. This is how it would be handled in private sector. How can they be considered honorable after this?

  • FmpSportsguy
    February 11, 2013 - 08:20

    One major point that you did not discuss, and hopefully will be investigated by Ontario's Health card office, is Duffy's continued use of his OHIP card EVEN after swearing an OATH that he was a resident of PEI. Conservatives of all stripes have lambasted Health Card fraud, and have put in tough penalties. Nothing could be more fitting than an example be made of Mr Duffy, for abusing the system.