OTTAWA Controversy over Mike Duffy's Senate housing allowance has ballooned into a bigger question -- whether he's entitled to sit in the Senate at all -- that also threatens to ensnare colleague Pamela Wallin.
Duffy has been caught up in a controversy that began with questions about potential abuse of the housing allowance and has since grown into a constitutional quandary that could soon include his fellow former broadcaster.
The Constitution requires senators to be resident in the provinces they represent -- but what constitutes residency is not explicitly spelled out.
The Senate's internal economy committee announced Friday it is seeking legal advice as to whether Duffy, who owns a home in Ottawa, is actually resident in Prince Edward Island, where he owns a cottage.
The committee has asked Deloitte to review the residency claims of Duffy, fellow Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb.
The accountants will look at their claims about their primary residence and whether they're entitled to a housing allowance to compensate for living expenses while in Ottawa.
Committee chairman David Tkachuk said Duffy spends more than 60 days a year in P.E.I., but whether that satisfies the residency requirement is unclear. "I always thought it was pretty simple, but when you talk to lawyers you find out how complex this really is," Tkachuk said.
Wallin's name got dragged into the mix Friday by New Democrats.
Wallin was appointed as a senator for Saskatchewan in December 2008, despite not having lived there for decades.
Saskatchewan records suggest she owns land and co-owns two properties with family members in her hometown of Wadena. But at least one of those records lists her home address in Toronto, where she has three condos.
Before becoming enmeshed in the controversy, Tkachuk "always thought (residency means) you live there."
But he admitted his simplistic interpretation of residency was based on his own situation. When he's not in Ottawa for Senate sittings or travelling on Senate business, Tkachuk lives in Saskatchewan, where his wife and grown children reside year-round. He flies home most weekends.
But should a cottage, where one spends only a few weeks a year, count as residency?
"I think it does and I think it's a question of assessment," said Tkachuk.
The ill-defined residency requirement was imposed in the Constitution at a time when air travel was unheard of. Senators would spend months in the capital and return to their home provinces by train during breaks.
Tkachuk said it's time to clarify the residency requirement to take into account modern realities.
Liberal Sen. Terry Mercer, who sold his home in Ottawa and set up residence in Nova Scotia when he was appointed to represent the province, said residency should mean the province in which one pays income taxes, has a driver's licence and is covered by health insurance.
By that standard, Duffy, who applied for a P.E.I. health card this year, would not qualify as resident in the province.
It's debatable whether Wallin would.
In an email, Wallin said she meets the constitutional requirements to represent Saskatchewan. "Saskatchewan is my home and I have owned property there for many years," the email said.
-- The Canadian Press