If Senator Mike Duffy's interviews late last week were intended to put to rest the controversy over his residency as a senator, he missed the mark. He not only failed to change the channel on this item, he turned up the volume. We're more confused, and have more questions, than ever.
After weeks of dodging the media over questions about his primary residence and whether he's entitled to expense claims for his Ottawa home as a secondary residence, Duffy surprised everyone late last week by granting interviews to two television networks. He wouldn't talk to The Guardian when approached, however, saying he was too busy, nevertheless he said in the two broadcast interviews that he wanted to pay back the money he has claimed for the Ottawa home to put the matter behind him and let everyone move on. "The Senate rules on housing allowances aren't clear and the forms are confusing," he said in a statement late Friday. "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. 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."
But what remains in question is Duffy's status as a senator representing this province. Duffy maintains he is a resident of P.E.I. "I'm an Island resident and I'm entitled to be a senator," he told the CBC. "I've met all of those requirements. The question is really one of accounting."
That may be how he sees it, but the Senate is seeking legal advice on how to deal with the issue of his residency in P.E.I. and the matter has been raised again in both the Senate and the House of Commons. Clearly Duffy's latest explanations haven't quelled interest in this story at all.
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, yet Island government tax records identify Duffy and his wife as non-resident owners of the cottage. Neighbours and local residents of Cavendish told The Guardian they rarely, if ever, see the senator in the area, although Duffy explained to reporters he rents a place in Charlottetown during the winter.
Taxpayers should feel somewhat satisfied that the senator intends to pay back money he mistakenly claimed, but this isn't just about the money. It's about whether he's eligible to represent Prince Edward Island in the Senate. His willingness to repay money claimed for his Ottawa home suggests he now acknowledges it as his primary residence. If that's the case, then what's the status of his Island residency and does it comply with requirements outlined in the Constitution? It will be interesting to hear what the Senate committee that's seeking legal advice on this question will have to say.
The committee's finding is relevant particularly for this province because Senator Catherine Callbeck is due to retire next year. If there are issues about Senate appointments that need to be resolved, let's get them settled now before a replacement is appointed.