OTTAWA – The chorus of voices calling on Sen. Don Meredith to resign in the wake of a damning ethics probe into his sexual relationship with a 16-year-old is growing, along with expectations that a vote on his future should take place before the end of the month.
The question is whether the Senate has the right to boot one of its own, something it has never done.
Senate sources, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly, say that internal legal advisers believe the upper chamber has the power to expel a senator and declare the seat vacant and do so by a simple majority vote. Other experts, inside and outside the Senate, point to three sections of the Constitution that give the Senate the power to punish its own without an outside body like the courts interfering.
The ethics committee will decide what punishments, if any, Meredith should face following a damning report from the Senate ethics officer last week.
From Maclean’s weekly politics podcast: A conversation with Sen. Vern White about Sen. Don Meredith
The report said Meredith had sexual relations with a woman once before she turned 18 and twice after she turned 18 and also had explicit online chats with her. Meredith, 52, acknowledged in the report that he had sexual relations with the woman, but only after she turned 18.
Ethics officer Lyse Ricard ruled that Meredith used his position as senator improperly and that he violated the Senate’s ethics code.
Senate insiders expect the ethics committee to deliver its report on March 28, the first day back from a two-week break.
The possibility of a prolonged and ugly debate about punishments has led senators to call on Meredith to resign rather than drag out the affair and face the possibility of an ignominious vote on the floor of the Senate.
The latest voice in the chorus is that of Andre Pratte, a high-profile senator appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Over the weekend, Pratt wrote to Meredith saying people will forgive him if admits to his mistakes, but that won’t be enough to repair the damage to public confidence.
In the open letter sent Sunday, Pratte said Meredith’s conduct as a senator and as a man was unconscionable.
“If you sincerely admit to your mistakes, persons of good will and of faith will forgive you; I certainly will. Hopefully, you and your family will be able to rebuild your lives together,” Pratte wrote.
“But that will not render you fit to serve as a member of the Senate of Canada. In my mind, you have lost that ability forever.”
Meredith has not responded to requests for comment. Sen. Joseph Day, leader of the Senate Liberals, said late Friday that senators deserve a response from Meredith.
Meredith, an ordained minister and married father of two, resigned from the Conservative caucus in June 2015 after the Toronto Star first reported on the relationship. He later joined the group of organized independent senators and was given a leadership position, but as stripped of it on Friday.
Before the ethic’s report public release last week, the group had proposed sending Meredith to a meeting that started Monday of the United Nations commission on the status of women. Conservative whip Sen. Don Plett said the Tories objected to the idea of Meredith replacing a Conservative senator who couldn’t attend.
“We would not in any way accept Sen. Meredith going to a status of women’s conference while he was under investigation … for harassment of women and unethical treatment of a young lady,” Plett said.
In the end, Meredith didn’t go.
Plett said he wasn’t ready to call for Meredith to resign. He said he still believes in due process and wants to see what the ethics committee proposes.
The committee has vowed to meet as soon as possible.