When Stephen Harper made the early call for this marathon election campaign, reporters took note that suspended senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin would all be back on the public payroll.
That’s because their suspensions from the Senate were the result of a vote by the upper chamber itself, back in the fall of 2013, and the force of that decision ended with the dissolution of Parliament for the campaign.
So stories noted that the three would not only start collecting their salaries again, they might also be able to resume using their Senate offices, if they liked, and perhaps making use of the budgets that go with their patronage appointments.
That was clearly an awkward situation for the beleaguered Senate. I checked today with Senate spokeswoman Heather Chew to catch up on what has been decided. Chew told me the steering committee of the Senate’s powerful committee of internal economy, budgets and administration met on Aug. 6 to decide if they really had to allow all three full access to Senate resources.
The steering committee’s conclusion, as summed up by Senate Speaker Leo Housakos in a note he sent to all senators on Aug. 7, was that Brazeau and Duffy had to be paid their salaries (senators make a base salary of $142,400 a year). But since Duffy is on trial and Brazeau has been charged and is slated to go to court next year, both could be kept on leaves of absence that prevent them from using their offices or other Senate resources.
20 per cent 100 per cent of Brazeau’s salary is being deducted—the Senate’s term for this is “set off”—to gradually pay back expenses of about $46,000, which the Senate says he improperly collected. (Please look to the bottom of this post for a note on that corrected figure for how much of Brazeau’s pay he won’t be receiving.)
Wallin’s situation is quite different. She hasn’t been charged, so there are no grounds in the Senate rules for forcing her onto a leave of absence. Not only has her salary has been reinstated, she is also allowed to use the same resources and incur the same expenses as any other senator. According to Chew, Wallin has asked for a BlackBerry and her office is “set up and ready to go.”
There are two ways, according to Chew, that the situations of Duffy and Brazeau could change. If they are acquitted in court, Senate rules would not longer require them to be on leaves of absence that block them from using their offices and other Senate resources. Even if they are convicted, sentences of less than two years in prison would mean, under Senate rules, that they would not automatically be kept on leaves of absence.
However, sometime after the Oct. 19 election, the reconvened Senate could vote again to completely suspend all three of them, meaning they would go back to where they were before the election campaign—not being paid and blocked from any other access to Senate offices or budgets.
UPDATE: After this story was posted on our website, Brazeau went to Twitter to say that the 20 per cent Senate officials told me was being deducted from his pay was news to him—he’d been informed he wouldn’t be getting a cent until the Senate had the entire amount they say he owes.
That turns out to be right. Senate officials apologized today for passing along the incorrect, lower “set off” figure. In fact, 20 per cent of Brazeau’s pay had been held back to repay his old disputed expense claims before he was suspended by a vote of the Senate in late 2013.
But rather than return to that level, the steering committee decided in its Aug. 6 meeting to withhold all of Brazeau’s net pay (after standard deductions) until the full amount of his disputed expense claims is covered. That sum is now close to $50,000, including interest, according to Senate officials.
Senators are paid monthly, by the way, near the end of the month, so the previously suspended three would be expecting their first post-writ-drop cheques around the end of August.