OTTAWA – The Harper government defended its bid to suspend three senators over their allegedly improper expense claims Tuesday in the face of mounting resistance from some of its own Conservative caucus members.
Sen. Claude Carignan, government leader in the Senate, formally moved that former Conservative colleagues Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau be suspended, without pay, for “gross negligence” in their management of Senate resources.
A number of Conservative and Liberal senators complained that the move amounts to finding the trio, who are under RCMP investigation, guilty before they’ve been charged or convicted of any crime.
Duffy and Wallin have threatened to challenge the move in court and Brazeau is asking for a public hearing into his expenses. All three showed up in the chamber Tuesday, listening from the back row as colleagues debated their fate.
Citing numerous court rulings in the past, Carignan maintained the Senate has the exclusive power to govern its own internal affairs and to impose sanctions on those who break its rules.
The Senate has already concluded that Duffy and Brazeau broke the rules for claiming housing allowances and living expenses and that Wallin broke the rules for claiming travel expenses, he noted. And he said all three have recognized their transgressions by agreeing to reimburse the chamber.
The violations “occurred in such a manner and with such frequency that it constitutes wilful contempt to our institution,” Carignan said, arguing that they “must act with disciplinary action to protect its dignity as well as preserve the public trust in the Senate and Parliament.”
A vote on the suspension motions was not expected before the end of the day Tuesday. Carignan earlier said that Conservative senators would be allowed to vote as they see fit.
The trio of disgraced senators created a stir when each one arrived on Parliament Hill, making their way past a phalanx of cameras and microphones.
“The Senate’s sitting,” Duffy said as he made his way to the chamber. “It’s my job and, despite doctor’s orders, I’m here.”
Last week, on the very day the motions were announced, Duffy said he was taking a medical leave of absence due to a heart condition.
Before Carignan could formally move to suspend the trio, Brazeau informed the chamber he has a motion of his own calling for an open hearing into his expenses. He said the hearing should be conducted by the Senate’s internal economy committee and that he and his lawyer be allowed to speak there.
Duffy applauded his motion.
Liberal and Conservative Senate caucuses met separately prior to the debate getting underway to discuss their approach to the motions. Some senators on both sides expressed concern about the rush to judgment against the trio of disgraced senators.
“We don’t bring people into court for sentencing before we’ve actually had a discussion about whether they are guilty of anything or what it is they might be guilty of,” said Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal.
“This motion is a sentencing motion. … Something is, in my view, out of order.”
Most other Conservative senators refused to speak out publicly before the debate.
“I don’t make comments on any issues until I hear from everyone, and then I’ll make a decision,” said Sen. Raynell Andreychuk, who represents Saskatchewan.
Sen. Marjory LeBreton responded briefly to an allegation from Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, that she wrote to Duffy in 2009 telling him that Senate residency rules were not defined.
Asked whether she had sent him such a message, LeBreton said, “Absolutely not.”
Several Liberal senators have said that they oppose the suspension motions, citing a lack of due process and the setting of a dangerous precedent.
“It’s not a process that I’m used to from where I come from,” said Sen. Romeo Dallaire, a retired Canadian Forces lieutenant-general.
“I want to see people go through proper process, no matter what the institution, and certainly no matter what the politics are,” Dallaire said.
“After that, if we’re a country that believes in human rights and justice, then we can at least face each other in an appropriate fashion — not the way we’re going about it now.”