Senate votes to cap debate on motions to suspend three senators
Senators voted to limit debate on a motion to suspend three of their colleagues for alleged “gross negligence” regarding their expense claims, but not before Sen. Patrick Brazeau warned colleagues that “if this can happen to me, it can happen to you.”
Senators voted 51-34 in favour of a motion put forward earlier Monday by Conservative Sen. Yonah Martin to invoke closure on debate over the motion to suspend Brazeau, as well as Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.
Wallin was the only senator of the trio to be in the chamber for the vote. She, along with Conservative Senators Don Meredith and Don Plett, abstained. Senators Hugh Segal, Nancy Ruth and John Wallace were the only Conservative senators to vote against the motion.
With the closure motion passed, debate on the suspension motion is capped at six hours, meaning a vote to oust the three senators without pay or access to Senate resources is expected to happen sometime Tuesday.
CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson reported Monday that there will be three votes on the suspension motion so senators can vote on Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin separately.
Brazeau spoke in the Senate as debate neared midnight Monday, saying the Deloitte audit had effectively cleared him of the housing issue.
He called the proceedings a “shameless farce … the likes of which has never been seen in Canadian history,” and said the suspension motions were more about political expediency than due process.
“You’re not going to throw this Indian under the bus,” he said.
In an earlier letter to parliamentarians, Brazeau warned that a suspension vote could one day happen to them.
Brazeau noted that outside auditor Deloitte found he met all four criteria for the Senate’s housing allowance, which senators can claim if their primary residence is more than 100 km outside of Ottawa.
However, the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee ordered him to repay about $48,000 in expenses, which he refused to do, and now his wages are being garnished.
"I recommend you have a lawyer examine all claims you submit before you submit them," Brazeau wrote.
"You may currently believe you are being compliant with (House of Commons) or Senate policy. The rules may change without your knowledge and you may find yourself kicked out of your caucus, being suspended without pay and being scapegoated in the media as some kind of entitled 'fat cat.'
"This can happen in spite of the fact that you are completely compliant with a given policy. This can happen even though you never submit per diems for lunch and brown bag it every day. Your compliance is irrelevant if internal economy says that it is, as they are above the law."
As debate got underway Monday on Martin’s closure motion, Conservative and Liberal senators spoke out against both the move to limit debate and the rush to punish senators without “due process.”
Wallace decried the effort to impose the same sanction on all three senators even though each case is different.
"We must ... be satisfied that all of the sanctions imposed for each of the three senators, including the duration of the proposed suspensions are, in the circumstances, fair, reasonable, balanced and proportionate to what has been alleged against each of them," Wallace told his colleagues.
The "one-size-fits-all approach ... flies directly in the face of the reality that these are three separate individuals with three very different sets of facts and circumstances," he added.
Other Conservative senators also spoke out against the suspension motions, including Segal, who indicated last week that he would vote against them.
"We in this chamber must not be about any rush to judgment or the trashing of reputations or, worse, interference in independent police investigations," he said.
The proposed suspensions would last for the remainder of the current parliamentary session, which is scheduled to end in 2015. The senators would not receive their Senate pay or have access to Senate resources, but would continue to receive health benefits.
The debate over the closure motion got off to a raucous start earlier Monday, when Martin was sharply criticized by some of her colleagues for invoking the rights veterans fought for and implored senators to “act now.”
“I can’t think of a better time than on this day as we debate this time allocation to move into the main motion, as we begin Veterans Week,” Martin said. “That we think of where we have come from and the opportunities and the privileges we have, as all honourable senators have, to better serve Canadians.”
Sen. Jane Cordy called Martin’s comments “offensive,” and said her father, a veteran, “did not fight for time allocation.”
Martin apologized, saying she was moved by a morning ceremony to honour veterans of the Korean War.
“I should not have mixed the two and I apologize,” she said.
Martin said debate has carried on long enough about whether to oust the three senators, and it’s time “to finally return to what this institution is supposed to do, studying and debating legislation and looking at other matters.”
Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin are facing suspension after outside audits found evidence of improper expense claims.
Wallin repaid more than $130,000 in expenses, while Duffy repaid some $90,000 with help from Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff.
The RCMP is investigating the expenses of all three senators, as well as those of former senator Mac Harb. The force is also probing the $90,000 Wright gave to Duffy to repay his expenses.
No charges have been laid.
While Harper was absent during question period on Monday, questions about the Senate spending scandal continued.
The NDP demanded answers from Harper's parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra about Senate revelations made during the Conservative Party convention this past weekend.
Sen. Irving Gerstein, who oversees the Conservative Party's finances, said in a speech Saturday that he refused to allow money from the Conservative fund to pay off Duffy's contested expenses, contradicting the version of events that Wright provided to police.
Wright's lawyers had previously told the RCMP that the Conservative Party was initially going to repay the money for Duffy when it was believed the amount he owed was $32,000.
NDP Deputy Leader Megan Leslie accused the Conservatives, including Gerstein, of making up a "new versions of events."
"For Monday, Nov. 4, what is the prime minister's official version of events surrounding his cash for cover-up scheme hatched in his office?" Leslie asked.
The Halifax MP also asked when Harper first spoke to Gerstein about the Senate expense scandal.
Calandra said Harper spoke to the entire Conservative caucus, both the Senate and the House, about repaying any inappropriate expenses in February and he didn't learn until mid-May that Wright had repaid Duffy’s expenses.
Calandra urged the opposition to support the suspension motion in the Senate.
"It's only the Liberals in the House and in the Senate, and of course the NDP, who want to make victims out of these three senators and former disgraced Liberal senator Mac Harb….they're the only ones who are standing up for these people," he said.
With files from The Canadian Press