Last week, Senator Mike Duffy claimed to have been thrown for a loop by the questions on the Senate expense forms. Senators are presented with two statements: “My primary residence is located within 100 kilometres from Parliament Hill” and “My primary residence is more than 100 kilometres from Parliament Hill.” They are required to check one of the two boxes. Mr. Duffy admitted to having checked the wrong one, at least twice.
He claimed “the forms are confusing” and, indeed, “arcane.” I wonder how he copes with that customs-declaration stumper, “I/we have visited a farm and will be going to a farm in Canada in the next 14 days.”
Mr. Duffy has been evasive about questions around his claims of a housing allowance (offered to senators who must be in Ottawa for Senate business but also are required to live in their home provinces) totalling at least $42,802 over two years.
In fact, Mr. Duffy lives and votes in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, in a home he purchased five years before he was appointed to the Senate in 2008. He has a modest, seasonal cottage in Cavendish, PEI, which is reportedly seldom used.
There are signs there may be a number of these houses across the country – dark, lifeless, spooky places children rush by after sundown because some people say those houses have senators. Former Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau (now independent) and Liberal Senator Mac Harb are also being investigated for questionable secondary-residence expenses.
Mr. Duffy, when faced with this audit of his expenses and asked for proof of his PEI residency – specifically, a health card – frantically applied for one (he currently holds an Ontario health card), asking that his application be expedited to meet the audit deadline. Last week, after two months of statements (including an attack on the professionalism of the journalist who broke the story) that were so all over the map no province would give them a health card, Mr. Duffy said he would pay back the money, but admitted no wrongdoing.
“Canadians know Mike Duffy. They’ve known me for years and they know that I would never do anything that was inappropriate and I would never, ever take advantage of my position,” he said, making an enormous assumption about Canada’s level of Duffy awareness and delight, and a strong case for the abolition of senators talking about themselves in the third person.
Mr. Duffy issued a statement in which he said that he would be returning the accommodation money because the issue had become “a distraction,” making himself the latest in a long line of public figures to embrace the word “distraction.”
Bemoaning the fact that an accusation against you has become a distraction is a fashionable way of saying, “The problem is less that I did a bad thing than that you insist on talking about the bad thing I did. And that may stand in the way of me doing other things – possibly good things, but let’s be realistic, possibly equally distracting things – that I’d really like to get up to.”
People often announce their status as a distraction before they resign. It’s a bit like saying, “Think of me not as someone who broke the rules, but as a tied soccer game going on outside your Grade 7 classroom window on a warm spring day.” Or, “I’m but the taut, pink bra strap of the girl in front of you when you have an exam coming up, so I’ll make my benign-but-ill-situated self scarce, for the good of all.”
Mr. Duffy, however, shows no sign of resigning. PEI residency rules don’t apply to the Senate, he noted, seemingly happy to demonstrate literacy in any set of rules that absolve him – just not the rules that govern the Senate, which don’t.
Marjory LeBreton, government leader in the Senate, said this that week the mere signing of a declaration of qualification form claiming to be from the Island qualifies one for the Senate. Apparently there’s an “if I clap my hands, I am actually Tinkerbell” clause in there somewhere, officially making being a senator the best job in the world.
“I am entitled to be a senator from PEI,” Mr. Duffy said – not because he lives there, but because, as he said: “My heart is in PEI.”
By this logic, I should at least be part-time mayor of New York. But hearts aren’t mentioned in the Constitution, any more than the i’s in that unsentimental document are dotted with them.
Editor's note: Pamela Wallin is not being investigated for questionable secondary-residence expenses. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this article.