In late 1964, Michael Dennis Duffy of Charlottetown was among a number of young reporters who spent some months in The Guardian newsroom before striking off for greener pastures elsewhere. In Mike Duffy’s case, he went to Nova Scotia. First, to the radio station in Amherst and then on to CHNS, a private radio station in Halifax.
From Halifax, Mike Duffy moved to Montreal, edging ever closer to fulfilling his dream of being a reporter on Parliament Hill. While in Montreal he discovered that many of the reporters on Parliament hill had been hired from local Ottawa news outlets, so he took a cut in pay and got a job in Ottawa. It wasn’t long before he was filing reports from the House of Commons.
In 1974 he left private radio and joined CBC Radio and three years later he shifted over to CBC television, filing reports to The National. He spent more than a decade with CBC TV News before returning to private broadcasting. First, with Baton Broadcasting and then with CTV News where he was eventually given his own television show on national politics.
Mike Duffy was only 25 years old when he arrived on Parliament Hill, but because he was slightly balding, short, rotund and dressed very conservatively, he seemed much older. Because of his portly appearance and his stated desire to sit in the Red Chamber, he was jokingly known as ‘The Senator’ to everyone on Parliament Hill. And he didn’t hesitate to let prime ministers or their staff know of his willingness to serve. He came within a hair’s breath of being appointed to the Senate by Paul Martin when he was prime minister. Party affiliation wasn’t an issue; it was the dream that counted.
Perhaps, given Stephen Harper’s disdain for the Senate, people shouldn’t have been surprised with the December 2008 announcement that after 20 some years of lobbying, Mike Duffy was in his coveted Red Chamber, as a senator for P.E.I. Most surprised were the people of Prince Edward Island, a province where Mike Duffy hasn’t resided since he left for Amherst in the mid ’60s.
No one denies Mike Duffy was born and grew up on the Island. Being an Islander is part of his schtick, but actually living here, except in the summer, isn’t part of his repertoire. For more than 40 years, Mike Duffy has lived in Ottawa.
As Prof. David Bulger of UPEI has pointed out, the Constitution says that as a senator from P.E.I., Mr. Duffy must reside in P.E.I. The British North America Act, 1867, states, a senator “shall be resident in the Province for which he is appointed:” And the act goes on to say “a senator shall not be deemed to have ceased to be qualified in respect of residence by reason only of his residing at the seat of the Government of Canada while holding an office under that Government requiring his presence there.”
That second clause reinforces the residency requirement for senators by making an exemption for those senators who have been named to the cabinet and are required to be in Ottawa for longer periods of time to attend to departmental or government business.
Residency was a concern because when the act was drafted in the 1800s, it wasn’t unusual for election candidates to come from outside the local riding. The residency clause was to ensure this didn’t happen with Senate appointments.
When the act was passed in 1867, there were no such markers as provincial income tax forms, drivers’ licences, or government health cards to help determine where you reside. The controversy over Mr. Duffy’s residency would vanish in a nano-sec were he to show that he files his income tax forms as a resident of P.E.I. That he hasn’t done so, coupled with reports he is on the voters list in Ontario and holds an Ontario health card, all seem to indicate he is a citizen of Ontario where income tax rates are considerably lower than those on P.E.I.
Few, if any, are defending Mr. Duffy, which brings to mind the German word, ‘schadenfreude’, the malicious enjoyment of another’s misfortunes. Perhaps this is understandable given his cavalier attitude to the legitimate ‘adult’ concerns about the expenses he has claimed for living at his home in Ottawa. If Mr. Duffy can’t offer proof of his residency in P.E.I. he should resign. This would allow Mr. Harper the opportunity to correct his mistake and appoint someone who is a genuine resident of the province.
Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org