Everybody’s Talking About Kenney

Jason Kenney at the Manning Centre Conference, November 24, 2018

You’ve probably read the articles and heard on the news: Jason Kenney is under fire for receiving a $10,000 a year subsidy for his Ottawa residence while he purportedly lived in the basement of his mother’s retirement home in Calgary.  The Party and its supporters have been on the defensive for four days claiming the Calgary-Lougheed MLA’s mother was being ridiculed and harassed.  Truthfully, it was Mr. Kenney himself who was being ridiculed.  If you don’t get harassed online much, you might not know that some partisan individuals like to insult others they disagree with by insinuating they are adults who “live in their mom’s basement”.  It’s not pretty, but it is what it is.

The main issue is the rules surrounding residences for Members of Parliament (MP) and how they qualify to have a secondary residence that allows them to claim $10,000 a year in tax-free housing allowance.  Which seems simple enough; one question, one answer… right?  No.

Without intending to make a case for small government, welcome to this convoluted mess.  The first place to look should be in the Members By-Laws.  Section 34 notes the definitions for a primary and secondary residence.

 

primary residence means a residence, other than a seasonal or recreational dwelling or a recreational vehicle,
(a) that is ordinarily occupied by the Member and available for his or her use at all times; and
(b) the main purpose of which is not to generate income.

secondary residence means a residence of the Member, other than a seasonal or recreational dwelling or a recreational vehicle, that is maintained by the Member in addition to his or her primary residence.

Easy?  Except; what does (a), “ordinarily”, mean?  When I needed overnight accommodation in Edmonton last year, I “ordinarily” stayed at one friend’s house and he gave me a key so it was available for my my use at all times.  I stayed in Edmonton twice and both times I stayed at his house.  “Ordinarily” does not suggest any form of permanency and is, therefore, mostly unhelpful. 

Next up? Criteria! (From page 107 of  Members Benefits)

In addition to the definition of a primary residence, Members must consider the following criteria to determine which residence they should declare as their primary residence:
1. The primary residence is occupied by the Member more often than the other residence.
2. The primary residence is where the Member most frequently resides on weekends and holidays
(the Member’s travel patterns between Ottawa and the constituency will also be considered).
3. The primary residence is where the Member’s spouse or partner lives most of the time.
4. The primary residence is where the Member’s young dependent children reside.
5. The primary residence is in the area where the Member’s dependent children attend primary/elementary and secondary school.
6. The primary residence is the one declared on the Member’s income tax return, and is located in the province where the Member votes and pays income taxes.
7. The primary residence is in the province or territory where the Member has public health coverage, and where the Member’s driver’s licence is issued and vehicle registered.

I changed the bullet points to numbers for easier points of reference.  Mr. Kenney, according to any who have defended his tireless work ethic and sacrifice for this province, does not even come close to meeting number 1 or 2 as the Member’s travel patterns between Ottawa and the constituency detail.  A confirmed bachelor, Mr. Kenney does not meet criteria 3, 4 or 5. 

The Member has, apparently, voted in Alberta from time to time and definitely took advantage of the lower tax rates by claiming residence in Alberta (because even though Alberta is “overtaxed”, Ontario is more.. overtaxed).  The Member also has public health coverage, an Alberta driver’s license and a registered vehicle in Alberta and therefore meets criteria 6 and 7.  

As a side note, I held an Alberta driver’s license and had a vehicle registered in Alberta while I lived in the U.S. for three years. I was also probably still registered with Alberta Health Care since I didn’t think to tell them I left.  I’m simply pointing out that these criteria do not prove residency.  Alberta Health agrees; in order to be eligible for healthcare, you must be: 

committed to being physically present in Alberta for at least 183 days in a 12-month period

At this point it’s starting to feel like “anything to get him” right?  I’m soldiering on for posterity.  IF, we allow that he does not meet criteria 7 based simply on the amount of time he spent in the province (and my personal experience of having all three while absolutely not living in Alberta), there is still criteria 6. 

And, I am thrilled to tell you that underneath the list of criteria was this, simple, generic, hail Mary of a loophole. 

One or more criteria may be sufficient to determine which residence is the primary residence. In situations where both residences could potentially qualify as the primary residence, Members should contact Financial Management Operations for advice.

One may be sufficient.  Problem solving is fun.     

So let’s say, for the sake of argument that your primary residence is simply based on where you say you live and want to pay taxes.  You may recall the much loved philanthropist who changed his residency to the U.K. after the NDP formed government in 2015.  He didn’t want to pay taxes here so *poof* he became a U.K. resident.  Easy peasy.  

In fact, this is not uncommon.  Delaware is the home state of over a million companies, including Apple, American Airlines and Walmart (and 378 of Trump’s companies and some of the Clinton’s as well).  Delaware has a population of less than that; less than the City of Calgary, actually. But businesses pay state taxes in Delaware and create jobs and invest elsewhere.  Win – win.

But I digress.  Did Kenney say he lived in Alberta?  Yes.  Did he step up and pay taxes in the lowest tax jurisdiction in the country?  He sure did.  Therefore, according to the Member By-Laws and eligibility criteria, Kenney’s primary residence was in his mother’s various basements for somewhere around 13 years.  Which isn’t against the rules.  

@jkenney on Twitter

And when he decided to take Alberta back, he bought a condo.  It’s quite reasonable that if you’re going to be living somewhere, you probably don’t want to live in your mom’s basement. At least, not without some incentive.

 

This post contains both fact and opinion.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean

dmaclean@countersign.ca

@Mitchell_AB @thisweekinAB

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