Alberta Politics
Former MP Jason Kenney, now the leader of the United Conservative Party Opposition (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Jason Kenney’s domestic arrangements: A wonkish look at how MPs identify their primary and secondary residences

Posted on January 22, 2019, 1:11 am
11 mins

Members of the Canadian Parliament like Jason Kenney in the days he was MP for Calgary Midnapore are permitted to charge expenses for a secondary residence, either in the National Capital Region or within 100 kilometres of the riding they represent.

To avail themselves of this benefit, MPs like Mr. Kenney, who is now leader of Alberta’s Opposition United Conservative Party, must declare either their home in the NCR or their residence in or near their riding to be their primary residence.

Alberta-born Ottawa lawyer Kyle Morrow, who broke the story on Mr. Kenney’s past secondary residence expenses (Photo: Fasken LLP).

Mr. Kenney, as is now widely known thanks to the efforts of Alberta-born Ottawa lawyer Kyle Morrow over the weekend, declared a suite in the basement of his parents’ home in Calgary, and later a room in the basement of his widowed mother’s retirement village in the same city, to be his primary residence during the time he was an MP.

During his time in Ottawa, as we know from Mr. Morrow’s Tweeted commentary as well as media reports, Mr. Kenney charged expenses of approximately $900 a month for a secondary residence in Ottawa. A Global News report from 2009 indicated that Mr. Kenney purchased a condo then valued at slightly in excess of $500,000 walking distance for Parliament Hill. Mr. Kenney’s chief of staff says the UCP Leader no longer owns that Ottawa condo.

As Mr. Kenney said in a statement on social media responding to Mr. Morrow’s commentary, he paid rent to his parents and later his mother for his primary residences, although he seems not to have spent much time at the one in the retirement community. He visited Calgary only four times during a one-year period for which Mr. Morrow provided data.

According to the House of Commons Members Allowance and Services Manual, “a primary residence is defined as a residence other than a seasonal or recreational dwelling or a recreational vehicle, that is ordinarily occupied by the Member, and available for the Member’s occupancy at all times. The main purpose of a primary residence cannot be to generate income.”

Kenney Chief of Staff Matt Wolf (Photo: Linked-in).

“A secondary residence is defined as 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 the Member’s primary residence,” the manual says.

As well as those definitions, the Members Allowances and Services Manual suggests guidelines for MPs to help them determine which residence is their primary home if it is not immediately clear.

“The primary residence is occupied by the Member more often than the other residence,” the guidelines say. “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).”

By this rule of thumb, it would seem clear that Mr. Kenney declared the wrong residence to be his primary residence.

However, as is often the case in such matters, things are not as clear as they may first appear.

The next three points in this section of the manual have to do with where the Member’s spouse or partner and dependent children live and attend school. Since Mr. Kenney has none of the above, these are not helpful.

The final two points in this section of the manual are that “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,” and in addition 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.”

Under these guidelines, Mr. Kenney would appear to have selected the correct residence to be his primary residence.

“In situations where both residences could potentially qualify as the primary residence, Members should contact Financial Management Operations for advice,” the manual states.

Alberta Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Matt Wolf, Mr. Kenney’s chief of staff in Edmonton, said yesterday in an email that Mr. Kenney did contact Financial Management Operations for advice about his arrangements and “no concerns were raised over that period.”

“Of course Jason listed Calgary as his primary residence, given that it was his home,” Mr. Wolf said in response to my query. “The House of Commons understands flexibility is necessary,” he added, in recognition of the fact members of Cabinet have additional duties. “A one-size-fits-all approach (is) unrealistic given the vastly different responsibilities some MPs have.”

Nevertheless, it would seem that this was even confusing to Mr. Kenney at times, since he evidently forgot he wasn’t an Ontario resident when, according to Elections Ontario, he donated $399 to Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party. (The UCP says it was a registration fee, not a donation.)

It is fortunate for Mr. Kenney – and, I suppose, unfortunate for the Ontario tax department – that things unfolded as they they did, since taxes in Alberta under Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government are lower than those in Ontario.

I suspect that in Mr. Kenney’s shoes most of us would not have declared an elderly parent’s retirement home as either a primary or secondary residence if we only used it for occasional visits. But the Members Allowances and Services Manual is silent on whether an MP with only one residence may submit expenses for a residence in Ottawa, although it would seem unlikely this would be permitted.

Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Estefania Cortes-Vargas (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If, for all practical purposes, Mr. Kenney used his secondary residence as his primary residence, and his primary residence was not really his residence at all, but rather merely a place where he occasionally couch surfed, Mr. Morrow was asking an entirely legitimate question when he Tweeted: “Why was Jason Kenney … entitled to a (taxpayer-funded) residence subsidy of $900/month when he only visited his riding four times?”

Mr. Morrow has referred this question to the Board of Internal Economy, the office that oversees expenditures by Members of Parliament.

Nevertheless, it seems likely the BOIE will eventually tell Mr. Morrow that no rules were broken – just as no rules turn out to have been broken by Alberta MLA Derek Fildebrandt when he rented his tax subsidized Edmonton apartment on Airbnb and the rules broken by Senator Mike Duffy concerning his residence on Prince Edward Island seem to have come with extenuating circumstances.

If this turns out to be the case, though, the House of Commons may want to tighten its rules concerning expenses for secondary residences to protect Canadian taxpayers.

As a former CEO of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which describes itself as a “tax watchdog,” surely Mr. Kenney would have no problem with that!

Two more NDP MLAs say they won’t seek re-election

Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, the high profile former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate who crossed the floor to join Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP Government, and Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Estefania Cortes-Vargas, one of the first three openly gay MLAs in the province’s history, have announced they will not seek re-election this year.

Both faced difficult re-election contests in their constituencies, although as with all MLAs who make a decision to leave politics in an election year, that may not have been their only consideration. In the fall of 2017, Ms. Jansen was appointed to cabinet by Ms. Notley as minister of infrastructure, and was seen at one point as a key part of the NDP’s re-election strategy for Calgary.

As my colleague Dave Cournoyer noted, while some journalists have commented on the number of NDP MLAs indicating they will not seek re-election so far this year as if it were high, the actual number of planned MLA retirements in this election cycle is about normal, and slightly below the final tally of each of the past three elections.

9 Comments to: Jason Kenney’s domestic arrangements: A wonkish look at how MPs identify their primary and secondary residences

  1. David

    January 22nd, 2019

    I suspect like many ethical lapses, Kenney’s may have started somewhat innocently. I suspect he realized some time after he sold his Calgary residence (which he didn’t need to keep as it appears he was seldom there) that his Ottawa residence was his primary and only residence. This did not look good politically for a party that values being an outsider and looks at insiders with suspicion. So Kenney had to come up with a way however tenuous to preserve his Alberta residency and if the only way to achieve this was by ficticiously living in a seniors facility on paper well then that would have to be done. Of course, it also allowed him to keep the $900 per month, so I suspect that helped ease any qualms.

    Now for $900, Kenney could have probably got a nice hotel suite for his infrequent visits to Calgary. In fact it probably would have cost less and been nicer than a windowless basement room with a cot, which actually might have never been used. You know, those cots are really bad for the back. Of course, staying in a nice nearby hotel also wouldn’t have precluded him from visiting mom. It would have been a better deal for the taxpayers too, but the political optics would not be so good and it would have been less profitable for Kenney (and his family if he actually paid rent for the basement space).

    Now we’re not actually sure if Kenney’s back was stiff as a result of this scheme, but I think we can say for sure in this case the taxpayers of Canada were stiffed.

    Reply
    • Rocky

      January 22nd, 2019

      David, you’re far too kind to Jason Kenney. I think he’s guilty of the sin of avarice, but he’s careful about it, and breaks no laws. Come on, no ethical person would have passed off his principal residence as a secondary residence and pretended his aged mom’s nursing home was his real home just to cash in on a generous subsidy for MPs. But you can also count on it that no rules were broken. Stretched beyond recognition, but not broken. Parliament’s rules for MPs are notoriously loosey-goosey. They need to be changed.

      Reply
  2. J.E. Molnar

    January 22nd, 2019

    Confronted with the facts and documents it’s clear Jason Kenney is pushing the envelope of impropriety here.

    Jason Kenney is asking us to believe that as a grown man he claims he was supporting his mother by living in a non-existent basement apartment (verified by CBC), in her living-assisted nursing home residence that requires AHS approval. Where are his rental receipts. Where is his tenancy rental agreement? Where are the cancelled cheques?

    Thanks to Kyle Morrow these matters deserve further investigation. Albertans can’t just dismiss this on Kenney’s say-so. I wouldn’t believe what Jason Kenney told me if his tongue was notarized.

    Perhaps a review of the Alberta Residential Tenancies Act is in order:
    http://www.qp.alberta.ca/documents/Acts/R17P1.pdf

    Reply
  3. Death and Gravity

    January 22nd, 2019

    “Since Mr. Kenney has none of the above, these are not helpful.”

    I see what you did there.

    Reply
  4. ronmac

    January 22nd, 2019

    I was surprized that Jason Kenney was living in his mother’s basement in Calgary. I always thought he was living in Stephen Harper’s basement.

    Even more surprizing -and disturbing- is that he only visited his mother four times during his stint in Ottawa. What’s up with that? Could this be a foreshadowing of theway he will treat the electorate once in office? Feeling neglected and alone while he’s out frolicing.

    All politicians should take a page from MacKenzie King’s book, Canada’ wartime PM. He was so devoted to his mother that he conducted seances in 24 Sussex after she died to get policy advice. It must have worked. He was Canada’s longest serving PM. All politicians need their mothers close to drill common sense into their heads.

    Reply
  5. Bill Malcolm

    January 22nd, 2019

    Let us not forget that Kenney happily collected his federal MP’s pay while chuntering around Alberta all one summer organizing the beginnings of the UCP and his leadership thereof. It was remarked on by many at the time as not being kosher. All Canadians paying for him to change his job.

    Making a few bucks that way is not too dissimilar from being hazy about one’s official residence for a measly. ha ha, $10K a year payoff. Sort of defines the man. A sleazeball, from where I’m sitting.

    Reply
    • Farmer Brian

      January 23rd, 2019

      Bill it is certainly true that spent his summer in Alberta but the actual leadership contest I believe began October 1 by which time he had resigned his seat. On the other hand Jagmeet Singh did not resign his seat as an Ontario MPP until after he had won the the leadership of the federal NDP, collecting his provincial pay until the contest was finished.

      According to the latest Mainstreet’s poll the constant focus on Jason Kenney doesn’t appear to be changing the numbers much. I for one am certainly tired of the constant personal attacks from both sides.

      Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      January 23rd, 2019

      “All Canadians paying for him to change his job.”

      I expect most (non-Albertan) Canadians thought it was money well spent. I would certainly be happy to pay to see him go away.

      Reply
  6. Jerrymacgp

    January 23rd, 2019

    Certainly no JK supporter (I think he’s a fascist dinosaur, actually), but I think this so-called “issue” is simply equine excrement. He was a Calgary MP, eligible to vote in an Alberta riding at both provincial & federal levels, and so must have been a Calgary resident. And he had to have a place to stay in Ottawa, and had to be there a lot, especially since he was no underemployed backbencher but a senior Cabinet minister. Nothing to see here, folks. There are a lot more significant matters to challenge him on, instead of this irrelevancy.

    Now, about that provincial-level political contribution in Ontario … that does raise some questions. Perhaps some election integrity official in Ontario will investigate …

    Reply

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