Politics Chatter
Politics Chatter

POLITICS CHATTER: With the Senate (and senators) in the news, a defence of sorts for Senator Mike Duffy

Mike Duffy is just one of the journalists to have been appointed to the Senate over the years.

Stevie Cameron, a fine person, brilliant journalist, and best-selling author who’s about to be inducted into the Order of Canada, is no prophet.

“If (Mike) Duffy is appointed to the Senate – the rumour that makes its way around the circuit at least twice a year,” Cameron wrote in her 1989 best-seller Ottawa Inside Out, “not even his fellow journalists, usually an envious lot, will mind.”

Well, it seems they do mind.

Many journalists have been appointed to the Senate through the years: Charles Bishop of the Ottawa Citizen, Richard Doyle of the Globe and Mail, Joan Fraser of the Montreal Gazette, Betty Kennedy of Toronto radio station CFRB, Linda Frum, part-time columnist at the National Post, for starters.

But Duffy has been a lightning rod. From the moment of his appointment, he’s been whacked by his former colleagues and opposition parties for supposedly trading partisan reporting for a soft landing in the Senate.

Maybe there’s some truth to that, but most journalists appointed to the Senate had showed their political stripes. Doyle ran a fine Tory newspaper. Fraser landed in the Senate when Conrad Black fired her for being too liberal, and Jean Chrétien wanted to rub mud in Black’s face. Frum was partisan in her infrequent Post writings. And Charlie Bishop was lead political columnist on a paper that was pro-Tory (after a brief flirtation with Social Credit).

I think there’s an interesting dynamic here. Of all the journalists I’ve mentioned, Duffy is one of the few who didn’t move in the circles of Westmount, Rockcliffe, or Rosedale. He was a radio reporter who made good, a poor boy from PEI who worked the scrums, rather than sat in a paneled office. He’s a chubby fellow. He put no distance between himself and his colleagues.

Duffy was one of the few Hill TV journalists who wasn’t stuck-up. He was also one of the hardest-working members of the press gallery, often putting in 12-hour days. I suspect there’s an element of snobbery here, and that familiarity has bred contempt.

Since his appointment, he’s worked very hard on behalf of his party, doing much of the work that an elected MP might perform. He lives in PEI in the summer when the Senate is not sitting, or he’s out on the road stumping for the Tories. He’s one of the very few senators whose names are known to the general public.

Few senators work that hard. Doyle of the Globe did, as head of the Senate’s legal affairs committee. Fraser worked on a study of the Canadian media that came to the startling conclusion that Conrad Black was bad for the business. Frum is invisible, as was Kennedy (though, to be fair, her term lasted just a couple of years).

Now, the Senate has lots of problems and may well deserve to be scrapped or drastically reformed. But I would not lay the blame for that at the feet of Mike Duffy.

And I have a bit of an understanding, I think, of Duffy’s rationale for billing for his Ottawa home. When Duffy was a TV reporter, he had a house in Ottawa and a cottage in PEI. When he was appointed to the Senate at the beginning of 2009, he was required to have a residence there.

So Duffy winterized the cottage and spent thousands of dollars to make it into a modest house. He has to pay extra utilities and property taxes because the place – which I’ve visited – is now a real house, not just a cottage. So, over all, he spends more money on housing because he’s a member of the Senate. He billed the Senate for his housing allowance, which is supposed to be spent on accommodation in the capital.

The controversy over that billing has been fuelled by leaks from the Liberal government of PEI, which says Duffy does not have a provincial health card and does not qualify for the property tax break that’s given to people who live on the island for 183 consecutive days a year.

But that makes sense to me. Duffy is supposed to be in Ottawa from late September until late June for Senate sittings. So he’s not likely to be in PEI six months of the year. And because he does spend most of his time in Ontario, it makes sense that he did not switch his health card to PEI. If he’s going to get sick, the math suggests it will be here.

I am not arguing that Duffy scrupulously followed the rules or that he should collect the full $900 per month housing allowance. I would have advised him to sell his Ottawa house, buy a house in Charlottetown, and rent a condo here, if he wanted the allowance. (Plus it probably would have been a great investment, since the money from his Kanata home would have bought him a great place on the Island.)

But I think the reporters tracking Duffy doth protest too much. I’m not sure how this will play out, but it’s pretty clear that Stevie Cameron was about as wrong as she could be.

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  • NikolaTesla1

    ummm…no. Duffy deserves to be served to the public on a platter for his unethical journalism and his stealing of taxpayer money.

    How come no mention of his partisan hatchet job on Dion, the worst kind of partisan journalism I have witnessed in Canada? The man deserves to be tarred and feathered for the incident alone.

  • Hermesacat

    A blatant attempted white wash of inexcusable behaviour by Senator Duffy. If one were to believe Bourrie’s account, it’s Duffy’s former colleagues who are the offenders here, not Duffy! Please. Not stuck up? He was stuck up enough to believe he deserved to be Senator, & reportedly actively lobbied for the job till he got it. As senator, he’s supposed to represent his constituents in PEI, which, by law, means actually living in the Province. He not only did not live there apparently (neighbors say they never catch a glimpse of him), he had the nerve to claim his PEI place as primary residence so he could get an apparently illegit housing allowance amounting, so far, to $30K+, compliments of taxpayers. I wouldn’t call this the actions of a humble man. Duffy apparently feels he’s entitled to his entitlements – & then some. This looks like deliberate abuse & breaking of Senate rules to gain cash illegitimately. Since only 3 senators are reportedly being investigated for such alleged abuses, Duffy’s part of a very select & exclusive group, including Senator Brazeau, a group of Senators who stick out like a sore thumbs. Reporters shouldn’t report on this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659861290 Mark Bourrie

    OK. Name one of the other three PEI senators. Don’t cheat.
    I’ve seen Duffy at work on PEI. He’s there a lot and he puts in a full day. He’s also one of the Tories’ most sought-after speakers. I think he deserves less housing allowance, but like every other senator, he has two houses: one here, one in his jurisdiction. The one in PEI is required by the Constitution.

  • Lanark Laddie

    Hermesacat, your comments are uninformed and blatantly partisan. Duffy is one of the hardest working Senators around. His big crime as far as you Harper haters are concerned is that he is high profile Tory. If you want to look at Senators and MPs housing allowances why not start with the Liberals and see how many of them ever even tried to meet a residency requirement. Duffy owned a cottage on PEI for 15 years before he went into the Senate. After he was appointed he spent $ 100,000 of his own money to winterize it and turn it into an all season home. He has an Ontario health card because he has had heart trouble before and his doctors are In Ottawa. Moreover since he works in Ottawa for 9 months of the year if he has any health problems they are likely to occur while he is in Ottawa. I have eye problems and homes in Ontario and Nova Scotia; and my eye doctor gave me the same advice. Hang onto your OHIP card by keeping on Ontario address. Big crime. If you bothered to inform yourself you would have found just how hard it is to get medical specialists on PEI. Not their fault, but with only 130,000 residents they are not going to have specialists for everything. Unlike so many Liberals appointed to the Senate Mike Duffy could have made a lot more money for a lot less work had he remained in journalism. Admit it, your big gripe with Duffy is that he is a high profile and well liked Tory. Your party has lost 3 elections in a row until you stop whinging about alleged Tory “scandals” and begin to offer some positive reason for anyone to forget about the Liberals shady past and focus on their new policies you will lose again. Since you seem frustrated by the fact that you are out of office your time might be better spent on that.

  • GabbyInQC

    Thank you, Mr. Bourrie, for expressing what I’ve been thinking about: Mike Duffy is being singled out not only because he’s a Conservative and a supporter of the PM but also because his former colleagues are green with envy — and bile.

    Why haven’t journalists been as critical of Liberal Senator Mac Harb, who also claimed $31,000 for living expenses?

  • hollinm

    The column is right that Duffy’s former collegues for some reason have a real hard on for him and they are doing everything they can to malign him.
    Having said that the Senate has been in place since Confederation. I don’t know who runs the place now but it seems to me that the rules need to be reviewed on a ongoing basis to keep up with the times. There is no doubt in my mind that all Senators know the rules and are those rules sufficiently ambiguous so that taxpayers can be riped off. It would seem to me a rational, reasonable definition of residency could be established which would prevent the pack of wolves in the parliamentary press gallery from feasting on the Senators they don’t like. Duffy’s housing allowance is blaring across the headlines but the Liberal Senator Harb is hardly mentioned and the guys lives in Toronto and has for years. Balance is not the order of the day in the media these days.

  • hollinm

    Exactly…In fact I would suggest Harb’s situation is even more grievious. He has lived in Toronto for a very long time. I doubt his house in Pembroke is his primary residence. Has any journalist taken the time to check to see whether his primary residence is Pembroke.

  • GabbyInQC

    This is an excerpt from the Wiki entry on Liberal Senator Fairbairn:
    “Fairbairn worked as a journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa before being hired as a legislative assistant to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1970. In 1981, she became Communications Coordinator in the Prime Minister’s Office. On June 29, 1984, just prior to leaving office, Trudeau recommended her for appointment as a Liberal senator for Alberta, her home province.”

    Reading that, one would assume Ms. Fairbairn’s principal residence was in Ottawa, yet she subsequently was appointed to the Senate to represent Alberta. I wonder if the same questions were raised in her case. Or in any other non-Conservative senator’s case, for that matter.

  • hollinm

    We both know the answer to the question. Its only Conservatives who are the focus of the media in this country. Liberals Good…Conservtives Bad.

  • http://twitter.com/Rose215 Rose215

    I think he is supposed to claim his PEI address as his primary residence if he is a Senator representing them. Your primary residence is wherever you file you income tax from and any person can decide which of any two residences they choose to claim as primary. In my view, this is a witch hunt.

  • http://twitter.com/Rose215 Rose215

    In my view, Duffy was simply doing his job when he revealed the disastrous Dion interview. I am sorry, but journalists are not supposed to cover up incompetence. Nor are they supposed to pillory a politician whose views they disagree with — as seems to be the case when almost any Conservative bumps up against the PPG.