Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Duffy affair could have been avoided easily

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CORNWALL, P.E.I. -- The revelations in the Mike Duffy expense case just keep on coming. But there is one big question that still needs to be answered: why did it all happen in the first place?

The whole scandal could have been so easily avoided. Could no one in the prime minister's political circle see this coming before The Duff's appointment? Question as to his suitability to serve as a senator from P.E.I. surfaced from the day it was first announced, especially in P.E.I.

Sure, he was a (then) favoured native son, but he was living and working in Ottawa, only coming home to a summer cottage. But he could easily have stemmed any controversy by first semi-retiring from CTV (perhaps filing a daily commentary) and moving back to P.E.I. After living here a year, there would have been no question he was a resident. By that time, he would even have had the residential tax credit supplied by the tax department to prove it.

Prince Edward Island, you see, unlike other provinces, has a different property tax rate for full-time residents and summer visitors whose primary residence is outside the province. Technically, it works like this: everybody is assessed at the same rate but then residents get a credit for half that amount while non-residents don't. Being eligible for the credit would have gone a long way to bolstering his argument.

The Duff would then have become a bit player, instead of the poster boy, in the Senate expense scandal.

Instead, RCMP documents released recently in an Ottawa court show Duffy's only proof of residency on P.E.I. was a driver's licence and vehicle registration. The police investigation shows he obtained those documents just before he was named to the Senate. Prior to that, he held an Ontario licence and registration.

The RCMP documents also show Duffy attempted to obtain a P.E.I. health card, which the Senate Committee on Internal Economy had asked for as proof of Island residency. Duffy himself called the Island Department of Health and Social Services on one occasion and one of his staff members followed up with two calls requesting that the document be expedited. The health department, however, refused to co-operate.

The documents also note the Duff's Ottawa address is listed as his permanent residence on his passport and the legal address for Mike Duffy Media Services Inc., which collected his fees for speaking engagements.

So what happens now? If the RCMP decides to press charges, the Duff could presumably be forced to give up his seat, which he has adamantly refused to do to this point. However, here's the rub: such a conviction would be proof the former broadcaster had never been eligible to hold the seat in the first place.

If that turns out to be the case, could he then be forced to pay back every cent he has made since he assumed his seat in December of 2008? That comes to four years and seven months (and counting) at an annual salary of $135,200, plus expenses.

But the trouble might not stop there. There could also be further charges, because if any Canadian knowingly makes a declaration on an income tax form or an employment insurance form they know to be false, and from which they receive a financial benefit, they can be charged with fraud.

Were Duffy's actions and different? He signed a declaration stating P.E.I. was his primary residence; he obtained a Prince Edward Island driver's licence just before his appointment, suggesting he was at least worried the claim could be challenged; and there is no question he benefited financially.

Duffy has proclaimed the truth will eventually come out. But when he was given an opportunity to appear at a rate public meeting before the Senate committee on internal economy to give his side of the story, he didn't even show up.


A life-long resident of Prince Edward Island, Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Andy Walker has been a writer and commentator for more than 30 years.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2013 A11

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