Edmonton·Opinion

Scandal or smear? Jason Kenney's housing controversy needs a referee

It is the Rorschach ink blot test of Alberta politics. Look at the Jason Kenney housing-subsidy kerfuffle and tell me what you see.

'Who cares about the facts when we’re on the cusp of a provincial election?'

By calling Calgary home while a federal cabinet minister from 2012-15, Jason Kenney was able to collect a $10,000 annual housing subsidy for a secondary residence in Ottawa. (The Canadian Press)

It is the Rorschach ink blot test of Alberta politics.

Look at the Jason Kenney housing-subsidy kerfuffle and tell me what you see.

A scandal? A smear campaign?

Is the United Conservative Party leader a fiscal hypocrite or an innocent victim?

On the surface, it looks a little dodgy. Kenney, while a federal cabinet minister from 2012-15, claimed his primary residence was the basement of his mother's one-bedroom cottage in a Calgary retirement community. But Kenney rarely lived there and according to news reports, nobody besides his mother was supposed to be living there.

By calling Calgary home, Kenney was able to collect a $10,000 annual housing subsidy for a secondary residence in Ottawa.

Kenney's critics are crying foul.

Kenney's home more often a suitcase

The fact is that as a famously well-travelled cabinet minister, Kenney's home was more often a suitcase than a house.

It's a wonder he could call anywhere a "primary residence," but Kenney insists he did nothing wrong and in fact his arrangements were cleared by parliamentary officials.

Those would seem to be facts of the case. But who cares about the facts when we're on the cusp of a provincial election?

Cue the outrage machine.

Kenney's critics have pounced on the news as proof Kenney is a hypocrite who talks about protecting taxpayers' money but is happy to help himself given the chance.

His supporters are just as outraged, saying Kenney was merely helping his mother —and, speaking of which, how dare Kenney's critics drag his widowed mother into the political fray.

For good measure, Kenney's people have also attacked the source of the information: Kyle Morrow, an anti-corruption lawyer and political activist who ran as a candidate for the Alberta Liberals in Lacombe-Ponoka in 2012.

They dismiss Morrow as a "failed Liberal candidate" throwing dirt at Kenney in "desperation."

A murky tale

This adds a level of murk to an already murky tale.

Morrow has a partisan background. And he doesn't have the whole story.

He has dug into the data and unearthed some interesting questions.

But he hasn't provided the answers, just his own suppositions: "This could be Duffy 2.0," said Morrow in a tweet, referring to Senator Mike Duffy who was charged but later acquitted of breaking the rules over residence expenses.

What we need here is a referee.

We need a third-party, non-partisan body to tell us if Kenney did anything wrong. We don't need the anti-Kenneyites hyperventilating. And we don't need the pro-Kenneyites using ad hominem attacks to make their case.

A federal Liberal MP has asked ethics officials to investigate the matter.

Failing that, this issue will go nowhere.

Yes, it looks dodgy. But it's murky. This is no Derek Fildebrandt-level of housing allowance scandal where the former Wildrose/UCP MLA had rented out his taxpayer-funded apartment in Edmonton on Airbnb and pocketed the income.

Even though Fildebrandt hadn't broken any rules, his behaviour was clearly understood to be wrong.

About the Author

Graham Thomson is an award-winning journalist who has covered Alberta politics for more than 30 years, much of it as an outspoken columnist for the Edmonton Journal. Nowadays you can find his thoughts and analysis on provincial politics Fridays at cbc.ca/edmonton, on CBC Edmonton Television News, during Radio Active on CBC Radio One (93.9FM/740AM) and on Twitter at @gthomsonink.

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