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Allegations about then-MP Jason Kenney's expenses set off internet tempest

Jason Kenney in his Calgary riding during the 2015 federal election (Photo: Facebook).

Allegations about United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney's Calgary domestic and travel arrangements during the years he was the Conservative MP for Calgary Midnapore circulating on social media over the weekend had turned into a full-blown internet tempest by last night.

Parliamentary expenditure reports and flight records as well as Calgary land titles unearthed by rural-Alberta-born Ottawa lawyer Kyle Morrow indicate that while Kenney lived in the nation's capital he listed his parents' Calgary address as his principal residence and did so in a 2013 Elections Canada disclosure document even after his father had died and the house had been sold.

This prompted Morrow to suggest in a tweet Kenney was lying to Elections Canada and Parliament's Board of Internal Economy, the quaintly named office that oversees expenditures by Members of Parliament. "This is sounding a lot like Mike Duffy 2.0," Morrow asserted.

Kenney denied this forcefully. His Chief of Staff, Matt Wolf, told the CBC the Elections Canada filing was simply an error by an election volunteer.

Obviously concerned by the attention this was getting on social media, the Alberta Opposition leader issued a statement of his own insisting that for 30 years he has "always owned, co-owned, or rented my principal residence in Alberta. … I paid my taxes in Alberta. My driver's license and health card were from Alberta. My doctor and dentist were in Alberta. My Parish and volunteer activities were and are in Calgary. This of course all remains true to this day."

According to the documents circulated by Morrow, Kenney received about $10,000 a year from Parliament for his secondary residence in Ottawa. In 2010, media reported that Kenney had purchased an Ottawa condo for more than half a million dollars -- which, as far as anyone knows, he still owns.

In a tweet, referencing travel documents he had accessed, Morrow asked: "Why was Jason Kenney … entitled to a (taxpayer-funded) residence subsidy of $900/month when he only visited his riding four times?"

This is a reference to Parliamentary flight records found by Morrow that indicate between April 1, 2014, and March 31, 2015, Kenney, then a senior minister in prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative cabinet, only flew to Calgary four times. Several other Conservative MPs from Calgary flew back and forth 20 or more times in the same period, he said.

Kenney said in his statement, "I was afforded the same living allowance that all MPs get for accommodation in Ottawa. All was in line with House of Commons policy, and my principal residence remained in Calgary throughout."

Now, living in one's parents' basement may seem a mildly eccentric for a grown man with a well-paying, responsible job, but it's not unheard of, and could even be described as admirable frugality for a single person with no dependents. "While some might mock," Kenney protested, "I make no apologies for helping my parents. I am not embarrassed to say that my home was in the same dwelling, even if in a separate suite."

After the Kenney family home was sold, Morrow's documents indicate the former MP used his mother's address in a Calgary retirement community as his principal address for Parliamentary documentation.

According to Kenney's Facebook statement, "not wanting to leave my widowed mother entirely alone, I also rented the finished basement of the bungalow so that I could assist her and provide company while in Calgary. Eventually, I purchased the Calgary condo that I continue to live in today."

At this point, the CBC stirred the pot a bit by calling up the retirement community, where a staff member told a reporter the bungalows don't have bedrooms in their basements. It's not clear if sublets in retirement communities are allowed. So this point will need some clarification by Kenney.

Morrow, described as an anti-bribery and corruption lawyer with a practice focused on political law on the website of the international Fasken law firm, clearly infuriated the UCP leadership and their intemperate army of social media supporters with the documents he posted on Twitter.

Kenney called Morrow "a failed Liberal candidate" -- which is true, after a fashion, although I imagine that as a candidate for the Alberta Liberals in in the Lacombe-Ponoka riding in 2012, Morrow was neither surprised nor particularly upset about losing.

Nevertheless, this seems to have been picked up as an official talking point in UCP communications, as has Kenney's suggestion Morrow was attacking his mother, not his record-keeping practices as an MP.

But if the UCP leadership was furious, the Online Conservative Rage Machine seems to have gone over the top, with no shortage of abuse being heaped on Morrow, including a call for him to be hanged.

Morrow signed off last night with a series of Tweets in which he condemned Kenney of "falsely accusing me of attacking his mother" and noting that he has now "referred this matter to the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy." He concluded: "I will not be commenting any further."

It will be interesting to see how the BOIE responds.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Facebook

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