Senators vote to oust Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, November 5, 2013 11:53AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 5, 2013 7:24PM EST
Senators ousted Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin from the Senate Tuesday over allegations of “gross negligence” related to their expense claims, in what Wallin characterized as “a sad day for democracy.”
After about two weeks of debate, the Senate voted on a motion to suspend their colleagues without pay or access to Senate resources for the remainder of the current parliamentary session, which ends in 2015. They will each keep their Senate health benefits and life insurance.
Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella ruled that the suspension motion could be split “for the purposes of voting,” so senators voted to suspend each senator separately.
Brazeau was suspended by a vote of 50 to 29, with 13 abstentions; Duffy was suspended by a vote of 52 to 28, with 11 abstentions; Wallin was suspended by a vote of 52 to 27, with 12 abstentions.
Moments after he was suspended, Brazeau left the upper chamber chased by a mob of reporters. He did not utter a word as he walked to a car, got into the passenger seat and was driven away.
Wallin remained in the chamber until the Senate adjourned shortly after 6 p.m. and made a brief statement to reporters, calling it “a sad day for democracy.”
“If we can’t expect the rule of law in Canada, then where on earth can we expect it?” she said.
Duffy was not in the upper chamber for the vote.
Shortly after the vote, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement, saying that “removing these three senators from the public payroll was the right thing to do.
“These senators have been found by auditors to have claimed inappropriate expenses. They should not be collecting a public paycheque.”
While the suspension motion, which was put forward by Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan, government leader in the upper chamber, was passed, not all senators supported the move to oust the trio. A handful of Conservative senators voted against suspending them, as they had previously indicated.
Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal, who was most vocal about his opposition to suspending the senators, said the moves disregarded “due process.”
“For all those in the Conservative Party across Canada who do believe in due process and the rule of law, who do believe in fairness, I hope I tried to speak for them and for the millions of Canadians who, regardless of how they felt about whatever the spending mistakes or problems may have been of these three, did believe in due process,” Segal told reporters.
“You don’t get to win every battle, and in our system majorities count and there was a strong majority on the other side and I accept that and I just move on.”
Segal also noted that it’s not clear what will happen to the senators after the two-year suspension ends. When that time comes, the Senate will need to hold a vote on whether to restore them to the upper chamber.
Liberal senators had been asked by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to abstain from the vote. Many did not comply with that request. However, Liberal Senate leader James Cowan and deputy leader Joan Fraser were among the handful who abstained from all three votes.
In brief remarks to his colleagues before the Senate adjourned for the night, Cowan said he did agree that the three senators should face sanctions.
“I do not agree that sanctions should be imposed while ignoring for pure political reasons due process and the principles of fundamental justice,” Cowan said. “And consequently, I refuse to participate in what I consider to be a highly questionable and perhaps even illegitimate process.”
Before the suspension motion vote, a motion put forward by Cowan to refer the suspension motion to televised hearings was defeated.
The three senators were ordered to repay thousands of dollars after outside audits were conducted of their expenses. The audits of all three, as well as of former senator Mac Harb, have been referred to the RCMP.
All three had decried the move to suspend them without “due process,” and all three addressed the Senate making various allegations of threats, personal vendettas and backroom deals.
Letter alleges potential 'criminal wrongdoing'
The vote came hours after the RCMP released a letter in which it said that documents mentioned by Duffy during his recent speeches in the Upper Chamber “may potentially be evidence of criminal wrongdoing by others,” and asked his lawyer to hand them over to aid in their investigation.
The letter, dated November 1 and signed by Supt. Biage Carrese, officer in charge of sensitive and international investigations, specifically refers to three documents mentioned by Duffy on Oct. 22 and Oct. 28:
- A Dec. 4, 2012 email from Nigel Wright that tells Duffy his expenses were in order;
- A two-page document from Sen. Marjory LeBreton’s office, dated Jan. 6, 2009, about the Senate’s residency policy;
- And emails from the Prime Minister’s Office “relating to a script for Senator Duffy to follow” regarding the repayment of his expense claims.
“The existence of such documentation may potentially be evidence of criminal wrongdoing by others,” the letter states. “My investigators are interested in gathering all evidence respecting this matter in order to conduct a thorough investigation. Our office will be contacting you in the near future to determine whether [redacted] will provide a statement to investigators.”
In two dramatic speeches to the Senate last month, Duffy said it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper who ordered him to repay his ineligible claims. However, Duffy did not say whether Harper knew that Nigel Wright, his then-chief of staff, had given him $90,000 to repay those expenses.
Harper has maintained that he knew nothing of that deal.
CTV News has reported that as many as 13 Conservative insiders knew of the deal.
Duffy, however, outlined what he called a “scheme” orchestrated by the PMO to ensure his expenses were repaid, and tabled emails and other documents in the upper chamber to back up his claims.
When asked about the RCMP letter in question period Tuesday afternoon, Harper said it’s “urging (Duffy’s lawyer) to co-operate with the RCMP investigation. Of course, we would all urge that.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair then asked in French if Harper will hand over any documents the RCMP asks for, to which Harper replied: “We said from the outset that we would be assisting the RCMP with all documents.”
To a question about whether he would table related documents in the House of Commons, Harper again reiterated his commitment to helping authorities.
Then he added: “The NDP keeps trying to insinuate some role on my part, but I have been very clear. I did not know about any payment from Mr. Wright to Mr. Duffy, or about the story to deceive Canadians about that. I do not approve of that, and had my authorization been sought it would not have been granted.”
Meanwhile, Harper also faced questions Tuesday about revelations over the weekend from Sen. Irving Gerstein, who oversees the Conservative Party’s finances, that he refused to allow money from the party’s fund to pay off Duffy’s contested expenses, which contradicted 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.
During question period, Trudeau asked Harper if Gerstein told him about the plan, to which the prime minster replied, “No.” Harper was then asked why Gerstein is allowed to remain in the Senate despite keeping that secret from the prime minister.
“So if the prime minister’s chief fundraiser knew about the scheme and kept it a secret, why is he still the prime minister’s chief fundraiser?” Trudeau asked. “If Nigel Wright deceived the prime minister, so did Sen. Gerstein. Why is he still on the public payroll? Why is he still a senator?”
“The actions in question here are the actions of Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy,” Harper responded. “Mr. Wright is no longer on the public payroll as a consequence of his actions, and Mr. Duffy should no longer be on the public payroll.”