P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy under fire for living expenses

Senator Mike Duffy has had to apply for a new health card from Prince Edward Island, the province he is supposed to represent in the Senate, the province's health minister confirmed to CBC News on Monday.

Province's health minister says Duffy applied for health card last December

Senator Mike Duffy has had to apply for a new health card from Prince Edward Island, the province he is supposed to represent in the Senate, the province's health minister confirmed to CBC News on Monday. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Senator Mike Duffy is again under fire over his living expenses after it was revealed he had to apply for a new health card from Prince Edward Island, the province he is supposed to represent in the Senate.

Doug Currie, the province's health minister, confirmed to CBC News on Monday that Duffy applied for provincial health care just before Dec. 25, 2012, and that somebody contacted Currie's office about the application.

The news comes amid a Senate audit examining the primary residences of all senators.

The audit, announced Dec. 6,  is asking senators to prove where they live. Senators who live more than 100 kilometres  outside the national capital region can claim up to $21,000 a year in living expenses to cover their Ottawa-area home. Media reports last fall identified three senators, including Duffy, who allegedly claim the living expense but live primarily in the capital.

Senators are also required to be "resident in the province for which [they are] appointed," according to the Constitution, though it's not clear what the definition of resident is.

Currie told CBC News that Duffy's health card request was brought to his attention and that those requests don't usually go to him. He said the health card would be a new one, not a renewal.

"I don't get involved as minister with any individual request, whether you're a senator or whether you're Joe Public. There's a process and I let the system take care of it," Currie said.

"We do have a process and the expectation is that we stay true to that process."

Mystery call

Currie wouldn't say who had made the call to his office about a card for Duffy. 

Currie posted an Ottawa Citizen story on his Facebook page that said Duffy's office tried to pressure his office into fast-tracking it. Currie also "liked" the story on Facebook.

In an email to CBC News, Duffy said he has responded to the Senate's request for information.

"That's in the hands of Senator David Tkachuk and his [board of] internal economy committee and they will deal with this. I have no further comment," Duffy said.

In the House of Commons, New Democrat MPs said Duffy is claiming a living expense he shouldn't be getting.

New Democrat MP Alexandre Boulerice said in question period that Duffy is another reason to abolish the Senate, something the NDP has long advocated.

"When he was asked to provide proof of residency in Prince Edward Island, the province he's supposed to represent in the Senate, he had to put in a panicked call to the provincial minister of health to get a health insurance card made ASAP. That really shows deep roots in P.E.I. The guy doesn't even live there," Boulerice said.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said Duffy, a former television journalist, has "been around Ottawa forever."

"And get this, once the investigation started, he was scrambling to get himself a P.E.I. health card to cover his tracks. Now, nobody believes that the Senate is going to investigate their cronies. This government put him there. What promises are they going to make that he's going to pay the money back to the taxpayer?" Angus said in question period.

Most parliamentarians have 2 homes

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said parliamentarians tend to have a home in Ottawa as well as the region they represent.

"As you know, the Senate is doing a review of their rules to ensure that they are correct and in fact to ensure that they are being followed properly," Van Loan said.

New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault said Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised Senate reform when he came to office, but has failed after seven years in office.

"He also promised never to appoint senators, yet he has now made more appointments than Brian Mulroney. At the end of all this hypocrisy, Mr. Speaker, Canadians are asking what has happened to accountability?" Thibeault said.

An Ottawa Citizen report last year said that Duffy is claiming the living allowance, despite having spent most of his career in Ottawa. The report also named Senator Mac Harb, who had been a city councillor in Ottawa and then a long-time MP representing Ottawa Centre, before he was appointed to the Senate. A CTV report around the same time named Senator Patrick Brazeau as another resident of the capital who was charging living expenses for a home outside the region.

Brazeau told CBC News in November that he was glad the Senate struck a subcommittee to look into the issue.

"I look forward to providing the facts that prove my primary residence is in Maniwaki, Que., contrary to what has been reported," he said in an email.

"I built my reputation on the need for greater accountability and I will continue practising what I preach."