The scene in the Senate

Strong language, rigorous debate, then a return to talking points


Adrian Wyld/CP

No cameras are allowed in the Senate—it’s almost as though the place is some kind of anachronism—so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was quite a scene there as the patronage appointees assembled early this evening to vote on kicking out Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.

Even though the galleries above them for media, political staffers, sundry operatives and plain curious citizens were bustling, the senators mostly kept their eyes decorously on their desks. Not David Smith, though. The old Liberal campaign chieftain frankly scanned the gathering throng.

The first order of business was for Noel Kinsella, the Senate speaker, to rule in favour of breaking up the motion to suspend, which meant Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin—whose alleged violations of housing allowance and travel expense rules are, after all, quite distinct—would face the music one by one in separate votes.

You’d think that might slow things down to the point of sapping the drama. Not so. In fact, it introduced a bit of suspense. It was fairly clear the Conservatives had the votes to boot out all three. But now we’d see if any one of the purported miscreants had, in the past two extraordinary weeks of Senate debate, garnered more sympathy.

Brazeau’s vote came first. No contest: 50 voted for suspension, 29 against and 13 abstained. The last two who stood to vote in his favour were Brazeau himself and Hugh Segal. This was fitting: Brazeau spoke bitterly late last night in his own cause, Segal with mounting outrage against what he contends was an unjust process. Have two more contrasting figures—Brazeau a populist political wreck, Segal a refined throwback to another era’s Toryism—ever been so improbably linked in a political episode?

Next up, Duffy’s fate. He was not in the chamber. Again, a lopsided result: 52  voted suspend him, 28 against, 11 abstained. Fascinatingly, Don Plett— Manitoba Conservative, former party president, friend of Duffy—was among those abstaining. His powerful speech last month, arguing that the three embattled senators hadn’t been dealt with fairly, apparently didn’t mean he would actually vote against his party line.

And, finally, Wallin. She was present. Before the proceedings began, Liberal Senator Anne Cools, one of the upper chamber’s characters, sat talking Wallin’s ear off. Maybe it was a welcome distraction. By now, the rough pattern was predictable: 52 to throw her out, 27 to let her stay, and a dozen abstentions.

By the time I reached the Senate foyer, Brazeau was long gone, having stormed through the media area without pausing. Wallin, however, beelined for the cameras. “I think it’s an extremely sad day for democracy,” she said. “If we can’t expect the rule of law in Canada, then where on earth can we expect it?” Then she rushed off, looking like she might lose her composure if she lingered even a moment more.

Segal didn’t have that problem. He held forth for a good long time. He started off declaring differences of opinion to be quite normal in his party, healthy even. But then he said: “For all those in the Conservative party across Canada who do believe in the rule of law, who do believe in fairness, I hope I tried to speak for them.” What does that suggest about those he was not speaking for?

Plett reacted with outrage when reporters asked why he had abstained after making such a memorable case against what he portrayed as a deeply unfair process. “For you to suggest that I gave up my principles is sickening,” he said, explaining later: “I did not have the votes the win. There is no point continuing to fight when the battle is over.”

Thus, the talk remained heated, drenched with personality, full of strong language, just as the debate has been for the past two weeks. At least, it stayed that way until Carignan stepped up to the microphone. Suddenly, the authentic voices that we’ve heard in the Senate lately—compelling one moment, ridiculous the next; by turns emotional and rigorous—gave way to something more familiar on Parliament Hill: talking points.

Carignan read ploddingly, first in English then in French, from a prepared statement.  “The misconduct of these three senators called for firm action and that is what we have taken,” Harper’s designated point man in the Senate recited. “Unfortunately, Trudeau’s Liberals continued to defend what is the status quo and condoned the action of these senators.”

Even when he took questions, his didn’t sound anything like the bracingly individual voices we’ve been treated to as the Senate grappled with this issue. At one point, Carignan even said, “It’s our responsibility to maintain the confidence of the public in this institution.” And so flat was his delivery that nobody laughed.


The scene in the Senate

  1. Mr. Plett, as someone once said – ‘You had a choice!’ You folded.

    • I agree with you! Plett should have gone down fighting on principle, even knowing he didn’t have the numbers to win — isn’t that what principle is? Why did he even have the big grandstanding day last week if he was going to fold like a cheap shirt?

      • My eyes just made a Freudian slip – thought for a sec you wrote “cheap shit”.

        • LOL: potato potahto!

      • Maybe he found out what plans they have for Segal.

  2. Two quick comments – if the Speaker could divide the motion into three (four, actually, parts) based on rulings from the Commons, why could the budget bills not be broken into separate parts, dealing with obviously distinct subjects?

    Why did reporters at the scrum afterwards not ask Carignan who had actually composed the prepared statement he read out? It sounded very much like he was ordered to read them by the PMO.

    • Ask if it was the same communications approach as when PMO wrote the lines that Duffy borrowed his expense payback money from Royal Bank!

    • “It sounded very much like he was ordered to read them by the PMO.”

      Yep, and right now their priority is to coordinate with those anti Trudeau radio ads that have apparently started to air.
      We don’t have a democracy anymore. We have an unelected thugocracy directed from the Langevin. Guess who signs of on their marching orders?

  3. The crooks(cons) are still running the big house. Like I said in another post, the only thing missing from the yesterdays proceedings, was the firing squad. im still a shocked at how this whole affair evolved. I don’t agree with the mishandling of funds, but I really hate when I see the real culprit(harper) still sits on his throne. again, ive never new or seen how banana republic worked until I watched what took place in the hallways of parliament yesterday. it will be a day for our history books, if the truth ever comes out.

    • One thing is clear: harper will pull apart the careers and lives of those he raised up himself, if he thinks it will make him look good and appease his base. He will encourage his people to get away with whatever, but if they get caught — suddenly Daddy’s all stern and disciplinary. Read Michael Harris’s interview with Helena Guergis, out today — harper is still trying to ensure she and her family remain broken. Yet they used to be friends, and he raised her up himself. He’s a loathesome hypocritical toad.

      • It just shows how nasty and petty he is. Look out Michelle Rempel – you’re sitting in the pretty girl seat.

        • Yep, MIchelle and Candice are this year’s pretty girls — gawd I hate typing that — and since you (I think it was you) pointed out last week that Michelle doesn’t seem to be having fun, there’s this: http://michellerempelisnothavingfun.tumblr.com/

          Well, she and the other newly minted cabs were the only ones willing to go on TV all spring and summer to defend the whole PMO senate scandal, so she’s sold her soul all on her own. You haven’t seen much of the front bench speaking on this, have you?

  4. Heh. I wonder if Plett read my blog post about principles vs. ideology last night before hitting the cameras. Poor widdle biddie baby has principles right up until the point where it might require him to actually stand for them against his ideological master.

    • His outrage was amusing. He really knows how to turn that on and off.

  5. Corruption is not a Canadian value!

    Stephan Harper in response to former Prime Minister Paul Martin suggesting that Liberal Party values are Canadian values on April 10th, 2005

  6. Too funny, Segal gets as close as someone like him is ever likely to get to calling out the PM. Let’s hope it drives a splinter into the parties thumb at the least, if not a wedge into their heart.[ splinters can really really smart for a long time]

  7. What a joke. If we tried this in any dcent business we would be out the door with cause and without severance.

    But hey, what more proof do people need that government keeps the corrupt on?

    Only real solution is the abolition of the utter useless senate.

    • If Harper was in private business he would have been out the door.

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