An RCMP investigation into suspended Senator Mike Duffy is focusing on whether he actually lives in Prince Edward Island, the province he represents – an issue that goes beyond the case and raises a question of Senate eligibility.
In court documents made public this week, RCMP Corporal Greg Horton said he believes Mr. Duffy lives primarily in Ottawa, not PEI. The Constitution stipulates senators must be "resident" in the province they represent, and Mr. Duffy is among a handful to face residency questions.
The probe is related to $90,000 in expenses Mr. Duffy filed for his "secondary residence" in Ottawa, where he worked before becoming a senator.
A spokesman for Conservative Senate Leader Claude Carignan declined to say whether the RCMP case will lead to an examination of eligibility.
"This is still under investigation, therefore we will not comment any further," spokesman Sébastien Gariepy said.
However, one Senate source said it's unlikely a senator would be ejected for not living in the province he or she represents, regardless of RCMP findings. "Constitutionally, I don't think anyone's going to disqualify a senator because he doesn't live there full-time," the source said. Discussions with legal experts left the source "entirely convinced this wasn't an issue."
A 2009 document, tabled in the Senate, addressed to Mr. Duffy and another freshly appointed senator, Pamela Wallin, notes "the Senate has never disqualified anyone for not being a 'resident' of their province of appointment, providing they own property there." Both do.
Mr. Duffy signed a Senate declaration in 2009 saying his primary residence was a cottage in Cavendish, PEI, and "I therefore incur additional living expenses while I am in the National Capital Region," around Ottawa.
However, according to the "Information to Obtain" document filed by Cpl. Horton and made public this week, Mr. Duffy moved to Ottawa in 1971 and held an Ontario driver's licence. He got a PEI licence on Jan. 2, 2009, shortly after being appointed as a PEI senator on Dec. 22, 2008. RCMP say his licence records note he "became a PEI resident on December 22, 2008." He listed Ottawa as his "current home address" when he renewed his passport in 2012, the document says.
With residency questions swirling, Mr. Duffy then tried to get a PEI health card, asking the PEI Health Minister's office to fast-track it, according to the RCMP document. The minister declined. A Deloitte review for the Senate found Mr. Duffy spent 54 per cent of his time in Ottawa, and 30 per cent of it in PEI, but said vague Senate rules left them unable to say what his primary residence was.
The latest RCMP document shows that, from January to April, 2009 to 2012, Mr. Duffy spent 35 of a possible 481 winter nights in PEI, with RCMP finding no evidence any of those nights were spent in Cavendish. The document was filed May 27 to get access to records of PEI hotel bookings made by Mr. Duffy and his wife.
"Senator Duffy has collected almost $90,000 from the Senate, claiming that his primary residence is a cottage that he does not live in for at least four months of each year," Cpl. Horton wrote. "… Senator Duffy's primary residence is in Ottawa, not PEI."
Mr. Duffy has said he receives medical treatment in Ontario, and the court document cited an interview with his aide saying he stays in Charlottetown, not Cavendish, to be closer to the airport during winter and avoid being snowed in. Mr. Duffy declined comment on the latest court document.