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Mike Duffy, shown in Toronto in January, 2007.

RYAN CARTER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Mike Duffy pledged his allegiance to Prince Edward Island while avoiding the controversy swirling around his residency status.

The embattled Conservative senator was the keynote speaker at the Maritimes Energy Association annual dinner Wednesday night at a downtown hotel on the Halifax waterfront.

"Let me be clear, I am a proud senator from Prince Edward Island," he told the crowd.

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He then proceeded to speak about energy policy and the need for a west-to-east pipeline, an idea being promoted by New Brunswick Premier David Alward and Alberta's Alison Redford. But he only alluded to the residency allowance issue that has landed him in hot water.

"Thank you to the media for your interest in energy issues," the former TV journalist joked, referring to the fact that a large number of media had come to the event.

That drew some laughs. He said, too, he was "looking forward" to reading the media's "analytical reports" on energy policy.

He has not commented publicly about his situation – and he refused to speak to reporters Wednesday night. After his speech, he slipped out through the hotel kitchen, telling a pursuing reporter, "You should be doing adult work."

Media were there to try to get Mr. Duffy to comment on recent reports that he had tried to fast-track a health card from PEI. A health card would help to provide proof that he is a resident of the tiny island province that he represents in the Senate.

Senate rules require senators to live in the provinces they represent. They can have a secondary residence in Ottawa; some senators do, while others reside in hotels when the Senate is sitting.

But there are some questions about whether Mr. Duffy's principal residence is the home he owns in Kanata, an Ottawa suburb, or his cottage in Cavendish, PEI. He has claimed $33,000 in residency allowance since September, 2010, according to media reports.

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He was appointed to the Senate in 2009.

Conservative Senator David Tkachuk is conducting an internal audit of senators' residency, looking for proof of tax payments, health cards and driver's licences.

The Guardian newspaper in PEI reported Wednesday that Mr. Duffy was not considered a resident of the province because he and his wife pay higher property taxes than residents. "Prince Edward Island charges 50 per cent more in property taxes to owners who are not permanent residents of the Island," reported the newspaper. It obtained provincial tax and property records.

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