Updated: Senator Mike Duffy takes kitchen exit as reporters seek answers on residence

HALIFAX – Senator Mike Duffy took a back exit through a Halifax hotel kitchen after a speech on Wednesday night as he declined to answer reporters’ questions about his claims for living allowances for an Ottawa residence.

The former broadcaster suggested journalists focus on energy issues, the topic of the speech he’d just given to the Maritime Energy Association, rather than ask him about a controversy over his primary residence.

“You should be doing adult work. Write about energy,” said Duffy as he walked down the kitchen hallway while staff barred reporters from approaching him.

Opposition MPs are questioning whether the senator’s primary residence is a cottage in Cavendish, P.E.I., as he has repeatedly stated.

The Senate is currently auditing its members to ensure they live where they say they do.

The inquiry came as a Postmedia report in December said Duffy spends the majority of his year in his Ottawa house, yet has claimed more than $33,000 in living allowances since 2010.

Duffy was in Halifax to give the keynote address at the association — which promotes various energy projects — and he used the occasion to suggest that the public should focus on economic development and not “other issues.”

The senator drew laughter from the crowd in the hotel ballroom when he referred to the large number of journalists who had come to his speech.

“Who would have known there would be such interest in the question of offshore development and energy. I look forward to reading your full and analytical reports in the media tomorrow,” he said.

The former parliamentary reporter said he shouldn’t be the focus at a time when Atlantic Canada faces serious issues such as how to pay for the future retirement benefits and health care of baby boomers.

“I have an announcement tonight people have been waiting for for some time. I am a proud senator from Prince Edward Island and delighted to be here tonight speaking up for energy development in our country,” he said.

“That’s the news here tonight. We’re on the verge of very important developments in this area and all our attention should be focused on the important thing, which is the economic development of our region and not other less important issues.”

Duffy has maintained that his primary residence is Prince Edward Island, at a cottage located on 10 Friendly Lane in seaside community of Cavendish — about 45 minutes north of Charlottetown.

Senators are required to have a primary residence in the province they represent.

Under existing parliamentary rules, senators are entitled to claim living expenses if their primary residence is more than 100 kilometres outside of Ottawa.

A Senate committee has now asked all senators provide health cards and other documents proving their primary residence is in the province they represent.

Earlier this week, the province’s Liberal government confirmed that Duffy had asked the Health Department to swiftly provide him with a card — a request that was refused.

Duffy’s claims of primary residence in P.E.I. are also countered by media reports on property tax records on the Island.

The province has lower taxation rates for year-round residents — defined as people who live in the province for six consecutive months.

Public records say that Duffy doesn’t qualify as a permanent resident, and has to pay the higher taxes.

People who live near the senator’s cottage in Cavendish have told the Charlottetown Guardian he’s seldom seen there.

“We’ve never seen Mike Duffy,” Morgan Eisenhaur told the newspaper. “He should show some leadership on this. He should have known better.”