I live in P.E.I. No, wait — I live in Ontario

Pam
Pam Frampton
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Uh, these housing allowance forms are hard ...

“He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.”

— Benjamin Franklin

 

So, we found out this week that Ottawa has unleashed a raft of professional pennypinchers. Their mission? To crack down on the unemployed in this country and claw back any wayward moneys they might be receiving.

Service Canada investigators have been promised bonus pay if they can each dig up $485,000 a year in employment insurance claims that are fraudulent or otherwise undeserved. It’s nasty work, but hey — somebody’s got to make sure taxpayers’ money isn’t wasted, right?

Well, if that’s the case, perhaps the federal government should unleash its money-sniffing hounds on the Red Chamber. That’s right, the Senate, where for the past few weeks, the important and considered work some of its honest denizens have been doing has been besmirched by the craven actions of a handful of apparent rogues.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not gone all soft on the Senate. There’s an argument to be made that it should be abolished altogether and, at the very least, its members should be elected and not appointed at the whim of the prime minister and in accordance with his political leanings.

But while we have a Senate — in its current form — I think we should acknowledge that there are senators who take their appointments and responsibilities seriously and who approach their roles with vigour. Our own Elizabeth Marshall didn’t miss one day of work last year. They’re not all indolently lounging around the public trough.

On Wednesday, for example, committees of senators were meeting to tackle issues that included cyberbullying, services and benefits for veterans and their families, aboriginal treaty rights, prescription drugs, the Proceeds of Crime and Terrorist Financing Act, the airline industry, and the implication for Canada of political and economic developments in Turkey. Not exactly lightweight fare.

Then you have the likes of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, who is confused about where he lives.

He purported to reside primarily in Prince Edward Island — the province he represents in the Senate — but was oddly without a health card for that province. Those island breezes must really be good for what ails you.

He was claiming the house he has owned in an Ottawa suburb for years, well before he was appointed to the Senate, as his secondary residence, and so was entitled to up to $21,000 a year in housing and meal expenses.

He’s not the only senator whose spending is being probed, of course. Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin, former Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Senator Mac Harb are among the others.

But what makes Duffy such an easy target is his claim — made after the controversy would not go away — that the housing allowance form he had to fill out was complicated, and he made an honest mistake.

Well, as the Canadian Press reported on Tuesday, that explanation is being roundly dismissed by some of Duffy’s Senate fellows.

Sen. James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the upper chamber, said he filled out the same form and found it straightforward.

“In this declaration of primary and secondary residences, there’s no confusion in my mind,” he told CP reporter Joan Bryden.

The article also noted that “Cowan questions whether senators who don’t live, vote, pay taxes, hold health care cards and driver’s licences in their so-called home provinces are even entitled to sit in the Senate at all.”

The Telegram obtained a copy of the “Declaration of Primary and Secondary Residences,” and even this form-challenged columnist could follow the instructions.

Let’s see, check one of two boxes:

‰    My primary residence is within 100 kilometres from Parliament Hill.

‰    My primary residence is more than 100 kilometres from Parliament Hill.

Are you with us so far, Senator Duffy? If you live primarily in Ontario, as some people allege, you would check the first box, and you’re done with the form. No housing allowance required.

If you actually live in P.E.I., as you initially asserted, you would tick box No. 2 and move on to the next part of the form, where you claim housing allowance for the burden of having to maintain a secondary home near Ottawa.

Duffy ticked box No. 2 and received more than $30,000 in housing subsidies since 2010.

Now he’s saying he made a mistake and is offering to pay the money back, which means that he actually lives … where?

If the answer is Ontario, how can he legitimately represent P.E.I. in the Senate?

Now, the fact that a former journalist is playing duck-and-weave with the media and ignoring questions about taxpayers’ money is disgraceful enough. But for a political appointee to expect us to believe he’s capable of serving in the Senate, yet is incapable of filling out a form, is a bit of a stretch.

Frankly, if an ordinary citizen ended up with money he or she was not entitled to — and did not disclose that fact for a couple of years  — they’d face far greater censure than just being told to pay it back. Anyone who has ever caught the attention of the Canada Revenue Agency knows that. (The motto there must surely be “guilty till proven innocent; interest charges apply in either case.”)

Bravo to the Senate for bringing in independent auditors to probe some senators’ spending.

What will be nearly as interesting as the findings is what disciplinary measures — if any — are meted out.

We’ll be watching.

 

Pam Frampton is a columnist and

The Telegram’s associate managing editor.

She can be reached by email at

pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: Service Canada, Red Chamber, Canadian Press Canada Revenue Agency

Geographic location: Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Ottawa Canada Turkey

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Bruno Brown
    March 09, 2013 - 14:57

    Mr. Chretien"s attendance to Mr. Chavez"s funeral was a great eye opener to me and surely other Canadians. Like him or hate him,I respected Mr. Chretien"s decision not to tag along with Alfred E. Newman aka GWB on the Iraqi war,he didn"t strap the gunbelt and cowboy hat like Tony Blair and now attending Chavez"s funeral shows he is a true Statesman.Unfortunatly I can"t say the same about Harper after lying about an elected senate and supporting massive spending from these hogs at the trough. Thanks for reading and hope you agree

  • Leah
    March 05, 2013 - 12:49

    I read the article, of course, before reading any of the comments. My impression was that this article is exceptionally well written and right on the mark. What's going on with taxpayers' money, though, is pure theft and makes me very angry and frustrated that most of the politicians get off with such actions.

  • Danny
    March 04, 2013 - 00:36

    How can any legit journalist write this nonsense.done here everyday..Live away in AB but get Nfld gov grant money to do up a old house we might someday come back to or use as a vacation cottage.

  • paul
    March 03, 2013 - 09:55

    is there anyone out there who thinks that these people will have to pay for cheating the tax payer you are naive.there buddies in crime will cover for them and hope it all goes away.no wonder fewer and fewer people bother to vote.get rid of the senete.that will take care of one small thing that is wrong.

    • Danny
      March 03, 2013 - 18:18

      So comedy rules journalism...this doesn't differ from the many Nflder ppl who live away working & getting grants to fix up da home on da rock....happens everyday.

  • Danny
    March 02, 2013 - 20:05

    Many Nfld ppl live away & still get grants for upgrading on a home they own here..what is the diff? Funny how you can make a story out of nothing Pam.

  • Danny
    March 02, 2013 - 15:31

    Ist here any legit journalism anymore? How many Nflder's live away but have work done on da home on da rock..covered by Nfld gov grant provision. I see it done over and over.

  • Roger Morais
    March 02, 2013 - 11:53

    I suggest that the following rhetoric"The Honorable Member","Transparency",and "Accountability" be permanently banned in future dialogues on parliament hill as we are fed up hearing such garbage.

  • Wry Comment
    March 02, 2013 - 10:43

    They say one bad apple spoils the barrel, but I'm not sure if Duffy is the bad apple or the barrel.

  • zafa
    March 02, 2013 - 10:24

    Well this guy is "BIG" enough in ego & size to cover both PEI and Ontario

    • You Bully
      March 02, 2013 - 11:14

      @ZAFA -- Really? So you laugh at guy because of his waist? Soooo mature. Soooo humaine. Soooo not offensive. I guess you are one of the types of people who also poke fun at people who have other disabilities, are old, or not white. How did this comment even pass The Telegram censors.

  • Ruthy B. Muller
    March 02, 2013 - 10:00

    This is another classic case when people do not own up to their wrong doings & have the nerve to shift the blame. Without integrity, a person especially with a position of Senator without accountability, is a joke on the art of democracy.

  • pedro
    March 02, 2013 - 09:16

    I'm with you on the penalties part of the story. I have little tolerance for greedy public servants. They should be held to a higher standard. Not a lower one. However having a primary residence in Ont. does not need to disqualify him from the senate. Lets be fair.

  • Lam Orial
    March 02, 2013 - 09:11

    It's too bad all senators are not being audited ... imo, they should be. As for Duffy, Wallin. Brazeau and Harb, I think at the very least they deserve their their walking papers and be required to pay back all money they weren't rightfully due. It's astounding to me that people who have been appointed to the Senate, a prestigious house of 2nd thought, would even consider trying to milk taxpayers for every last dime they can collect. It's obviously far too easy to do.

  • J Glorieux
    March 02, 2013 - 09:02

    As a westerner, I very seldom get to see the news without "spin".. This article should have been picked up by every paper in the country.. It's pretty straight forward as to what Senator Duffy is up too. Thx Ms. Frampton!!

  • laura
    March 02, 2013 - 08:50

    great article,my husband &I enjoyed it over our Sat. coffee!!!

  • Don Davies
    March 02, 2013 - 08:50

    In my world they call that Fraud Over $5000. You and I would be investigated and charged.

  • Michael Gallagher
    March 02, 2013 - 08:41

    So true!!! The average person would be reprimanded severely. Not any government official and certainly not a Senator like the Duffster. Get rid of the Senate or at least let us vote them in or out. So much money spent on having a Senate. Put the money towards helping the homeless or job creation. Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau etc. are a disgrace.

  • John Lawrence
    March 02, 2013 - 07:54

    Well written, Pam. Kudos from Ontario. Yes, I really live there. I am sure.

  • VanIsleScott
    March 02, 2013 - 07:29

    You really let me down Mike. I respected you and thought you had integrity. You lie and dodge the media like a practiced politician and now you enjoy the same lack of credibility most of Canada's politicians enjoy...ZERO Hope it Was Worth It

    • Bruno Brown
      March 08, 2013 - 12:12

      Likewise most of us liked Duffy,but like a stripper,if she"s not a hooker when she starts,she"ll be a hooker when she leaves.

  • Fact Checker
    March 02, 2013 - 06:51

    This is not news. This is opinion. It is in the wrongcategory on The Telegram website.

    • Pam Frampton
      March 02, 2013 - 11:33

      You are correct. It was initially posted in the wrong section, but that's been fixed now. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.