OTTAWA – Pamela Wallin says a government move to expel her from the Senate is an affront to Canadian democracy, motivated by politics and personal vendettas against her by confidantes of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The embattled senator — who has reimbursed almost $150,000 in travel expense claims that the Senate has ruled invalid — told the chamber Wednesday that she was targetted unfairly by fellow Conservatives Marjory LeBreton and Carolyn Stewart Olsen.
LeBreton was government leader in the Senate until she stepped down this summer. Stewart Olsen is a former aide to Harper who, until this week, was a key member of the Senate committee that sat in judgment on Wallin and three other senators, ordering external audits of their expenses and ultimately asking the RCMP to investigate all four.
Wallin said public opinion was whipped up against her by 14 different leaks to the media — leaks she believes “were orchestrated in large measure by senators LeBreton and Stewart Olsen” and which were designed to cast her conduct “in the worst possible light.”
The pair “could not abide the fact that I was outspoken in caucus, or critical of their leadership or that my level of activity brought me into the public eye and once garnered the praise of the prime minister,” Wallin said, her voice occasionally wavering.
“They resented that. They resented me being an activist senator.”
LeBreton rose immediately following Wallin’s speech to call her accusation “false, false, false.”
LeBreton denied ever leaking information about Wallin to the media or instigating the investigation into her expenses. Indeed, LeBreton said it was a letter of complaint to Senate administration from one of Wallin’s own staffers that prompted a review of her travel claims.
In addition to Wallin, the RCMP is investigating the housing allowance and living expense claims of three others — former Conservatives Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, as well as former Liberal Mac Harb, who has resigned from the Senate.
Wallin said the government’s motions to suspend her, Brazeau and Duffy without pay, before any charges have been laid or verdicts issued, is a violation of their constitutional right to the presumption of innocence.
“Why is the Senate acting as accuser, judge, jury and executioner before I’ve had that day in court?”
Wallin answered her own question: “(It’s) designed to appease the party faithful before the Conservative party convention at the end of the month. It is intended to intimidate —not only me but others in this chamber. It is about political expediency, to get rid of someone it considers to be a political liability.”
She suggested the motions are really aimed at depriving her of any income so that she won’t be able to afford to mount a proper legal challenge.
The government “hoped all this would force me to resign” she said. “But despite the clear, vindictive intent of this motion, you will never break my spirit.”
Nothing Wallin could say, however, could compete with the bombshells dropped Tuesday by Duffy.
He implicated Harper in an alleged conspiracy to intimidate him into accepting $90,000 from Harper’s chief of staff to reimburse the Senate for his ineligible expenses.
Duffy also implicated LeBreton and Stewart Olsen, among others.
Earlier Wednesday, Stewart Olsen confirmed she’s stepping aside as a member of the internal economy committee.
She is just the latest Conservative involved in managing the scandal to exit the spotlight, making it more difficult for opposition parties to question the principals.
In an email, she said it was her choice not to continue sitting on the internal economy committee.
“I asked for a change to spend more time on NB (New Brunswick) issues and to sit on committees that reflect that,” she said.
“I helped make changes to Senate rules, a goal of mine, but I want a change.”
However, Stewart Olsen herself was recently accused of wrongly claiming more than $4,000 in accommodation and meal expenses at a time when she was not involved in any Senate business.
She has denied the allegation but the new chair of the internal economy committee, Sen. Gerald Comeau, has asked Senate finance officials to review Stewart Olsen’s expenses and refer any irregularities to the auditor general, if necessary.
On Tuesday, Duffy implicated Stewart Olsen and LeBreton in the ultimatum he says he was given by the Prime Minister’s Office — that if he didn’t pay back his disallowed $90,000 in expenses, Stewart Olsen and fellow committee member Sen. David Tkachuk would declare him unqualified to sit in the Senate.
Stewart Olsen and Tkachuk have also been accused of whitewashing the initial committee report on Duffy to essentially exonerate him of any deliberate wrongdoing. Both have denied the accusations.
Tkachuk resigned as chair of the internal economy committee last spring, due to health concerns.
Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned in May after news leaked that he had personally given Duffy a $90,000 cheque to reimburse the Senate.
LeBreton resigned as government leader in the Senate over the summer.
LeBreton, Wright, Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen were all fingered by Duffy on Tuesday as being part of a “monstrous” conspiracy to pressure and intimidate him into accepting Wright’s deal, even though he didn’t believe he’d done anything wrong.
Duffy also implicated Harper, charging that the prime minister set the tone for managing the affair. He recounted a Feb. 13 meeting with Harper and Wright, at which he claimed the prime minister told him he didn’t care about the truth, he simply wanted the issue to go away because it was upsetting the party’s base.
Harper flatly denied that during question period Wednesday. “No, Mr. Speaker, I absolutely did not say that,” the prime minister said.
Duffy’s bombshell became fodder Tuesday for a new onslaught against Harper and his insistence that Wright acted on his own, without informing him or anyone else in his office.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the only way to restore public faith in the Senate is for everyone involved — including Harper — to testify under oath about what he knew and when he knew it.
And NDP Leader Tom Mulcair accused Harper of fostering a “culture of corruption” that’s to blame for the expense scandal and the campaign within the Prime Minister’s Office to cover it up.
In the Commons, Harper again denied any involvement in Wright’s payment.
“Any assertion that I was in any way consulted or had any knowledge of Mr. Wright’s payment to Mr. Duffy is categorically false,” he said.