OTTAWA – The suspensions of three senators will be invalidated if the government retroactively changes the law to preclude them from the parliamentary pension plan, Pamela Wallin’s lawyer said Friday.
The law is crystal clear, Terrence O’Sullivan said: the time Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau will spend under suspension must count toward the six years of service they need to qualify for a generous pension.
That was the law when senators voted Tuesday to suspend the trio without pay for up to two years. Changing it after the fact would mean senators did not make an informed decision about the fate of their outcast colleagues, O’Sullivan said.
“It’s not a little technicality,” he told The Canadian Press, referring to government Senate leader Claude Carignan’s characterization of the pension issue.
“In fact, the law was there for anyone to read, as we did, before the vote (to suspend the trio) was held.
“So, if they choose not to read the law, that’s not my client’s problem. And if they move to change the law retroactively, then that makes, in my view, the vote invalid because it took place under a legal regime that’s no longer in place.”
Carignan has said the spirit and intent of the motion to suspend the trio was to strip them of their pay and all benefits — including pensions — except for health, dental and life insurance.
However, the motion did not mention pensions and the issue did not come up during the two weeks of debate on the proposed suspensions.
It was two days after the vote that the Senate administration announced it is required by law to count the time the trio spend in purgatory as pensionable service.
That prompted Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who is responsible for legislation governing parliamentary pensions, to declare that he’ll change the law if necessary to ensure the outcasts do not accumulate pensionable service while they’re under suspension.
O’Sullivan said Clement’s declaration means “every senator who voted for (suspension) was not informed of this position and didn’t have the ability to analyse whether or not they wished to support the motion if the legislation was going to be changed.”
Apart from the legality of such a move, O’Sullivan said, changing the law retroactively to deprive the trio of pensionable service is “vindictive, vicious and without precedent.”
Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau have been suspended for the duration of the parliamentary session, which could continue until 2015 — the same year all three would ordinarily become eligible to collect a parliamentary pension.
The suspension leaves Wallin with “none of the benefits of being a senator but all of the liabilities,” including legal restrictions on employment aimed at preventing conflict of interest, O’Sullivan said.
She is already trying to figure out “how she’s supposed to support herself during the next two years,” he said. To add to that burden by retroactively precluding her from the pension plan “is more mean-spirited than even I could have imagined.”