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 those close to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
It was the second day in a row that a former, high profile Conservative pulled the curtains back on the ugly internal caucus tensions that preceded their ouster.
Like Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau on Tuesday night, Wallin let rip her reaction to a Conservative bid to have her suspended without pay and benefits.
“For the better part of a year the Government has sought to embarrass me and undermine me in the public eye…,” Wallin said.
“They hoped all this would force me to resign. But despite the clear, vindictive intent of this motion, you will never break my spirit.”
Wallin read her statement defiantly, continuing to dispute a Senate committee’s conclusion that she has improperly claimed $150,000 in travel expenses.
She stood alone in a far corner of the Senate to deliver her remarks, until fellow ex-Conservative Patrick Brazeau took his seat nearby. At one point she noted that she was a cancer survivor, who would be deprived of health benefits.
Wallin told the chamber Wednesday that she was targeted 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.
Wallin was found to have claimed expenses for travel on occasions when she was not on Senate business, such as attending events related to her position on outside corporate boards.
Wallin emphasized that the committee that reviewed her claims didn’t allow her lawyer to ask questions or speak during a closed-door meeting. The Senate as a whole has never voted to accept the committee’s report because of the prorogation of Parliament.
“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.”
The bid to suspend Wallin in particular is exposing a rift within the Conservative Senate caucus. At least three Tory senators applauded Wallin when she finished her speech.
Veteran Sen. Hugh Segal pounded his desk and raised his voice in the chamber as he decried what he said was sentencing without a fair trial. He pointed out that the senators would be penalized between two and five times the amounts they had improperly expensed.
“This is running a vengeance racket at a profit,” Segal fumed.
Conservative Sen. Don Meredith said he supported a Liberal motion to have the matters sent to committee for further study.
“Clearly something has to be done with respect to our colleagues, but due process has to take place,” said Meredith.
“I think all of us given the statements by our colleagues are conflicted. These are individuals that we’ve worked with.”
Nothing Wallin could say, however, could compete with the bombshells dropped Tuesday by Duffy, which reverberated down the marble hall in the House of Commons.
He implicated Harper in an alleged conspiracy to intimidate him into accepting $90,000 from Harper’s then chief of staff to reimburse the Senate for his ineligible expenses.
Duffy also implicated LeBreton and Stewart Olsen, among a host of others.
Harper did not respond directly to the allegation that several members of his inner circle where involved in the alleged scheme, nor did he address the suggestion that Duffy was threatened with expulsion if he didn’t go along with the reimbursement.
But the prime minister was energized — along with his caucus.
“Mr. Duffy now says he is a victim because I told him he should repay his expenses,” Harper told a high-octane House of Commons on Wednesday.
“Darn right I told him he should repay his expenses.”