The leader of the Conservatives in the Senate has moved to smooth the path for a vote to suspend three senators on Tuesday, saying the Red Chamber may be allowed to vote separately on each of the three senators who are fighting ejection without pay.
Claude Carignan, the leader of the government in the Senate, suggested Monday that the single motion he introduced in the Senate last week could be broken into three parts, one each for Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin. That would permit senators to vote according to their conscience, or their loyalties – and would minimize aftershocks in the caucus.
Conservative Senator Gerald Comeau said plans to divide the motion would be scrapped if the Liberals mounted an opposition that would further delay the suspensions. But it is clear that a handful of senators on the government’s side are uncomfortable with the process being used to remove the three former Conservatives – all appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The offer to divide the motion to suspend Mr. Duffy, Mr. Brazeau and Ms. Wallin was put forward as another Conservative senator expressed frustration with the rush of Tory leaders to impose the suspensions without pay, but with medical benefits.
John Wallace, a Conservative senator from New Brunswick, rose in the Red Chamber on Monday to condemn a move by the Tories to end debate on the motion to remove the senators over irregularities in their expenses claims.
“We absolutely cannot take any shortcuts to achieving a fair and just result for those who stand accused,” Mr. Wallace said. “We absolutely must resist the temptation to do so, no matter how inviting it may seem at the time. A rush to judgment can result in justice denied.”
Mr. Wallace said the three must be “afforded all reasonable time and every reasonable opportunity” to answer the allegations that have been made against them.
Despite his entreaty, the Conservative majority in the Senate voted Monday to limit debate on the proposed suspensions, a tactic the government has employed often in the House of Commons. A final vote is expected to take place late Tuesday afternoon.
On the Conservative side, Mr. Wallace joined Senators Nancy Ruth and Hugh Segal in voting against the time-allocation motion. It was the first time that Mr. Wallace and Ms. Nancy Ruth have clearly expressed their leanings. Conservative Senators Don Plett and Don Meredith abstained on the vote, as did Ms. Wallin, the only one of the three senators facing suspension who was in the chamber on Monday.
The time-allocation motion was moved by Yonah Martin, the deputy leader of the government in the Senate. “We have not heard any new argument from our Liberal colleagues for at least a week. The debate has been quite repetitive,” Ms. Martin said. “I think the message is clear: we have to act, and we have to act now.”
Mr. Segal, on the other hand, has argued that the three senators have been denied due process. He and the few Conservative senators who oppose the suspensions are in the minority within their caucus and do not have the numbers to prevent the sanctions.
Mr. Harper wants the three senators removed as quickly as possible.
Mr. Carignan issued a statement on Monday afternoon saying the time has come to hold Mr. Duffy, Mr. Brazeau and Ms. Wallin accountable.
“These senators have already been found by auditors to have claimed inappropriate expenses. It is the Prime Minister and my view that these three senators who abused the taxpayer should not be collecting a public paycheque,” Mr. Carignan said.
The issue has been challenging for Mr. Harper. His former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, paid $90,000 from his own account to cover the living expenses claimed by Mr. Duffy for time spent in Ottawa even though he has lived in the city for many years. In addition, the Conservative Party has conceded it paid more than $13,000 for Mr. Duffy’s legal fees.
The Duffy affair has raised many questions about who in the Prime Minister’s Office was aware of the payment made by Mr. Wright – and when. Mr. Harper insists he was kept in the dark.
At a Conservative convention in Calgary on the weekend, Senator Irving Gerstein, the Conservative Party’s chief fundraiser, said he had adamantly refused to dip into donation revenue to reimburse Mr. Duffy’s questionable $90,000 expenses. That prompted opposition MPs to ask Monday about how much Mr. Gerstein knew, and when.
“With full knowledge that a cover-up was being implemented by the PMO for three full months, including hush money of $90,000, did Senator Gerstein fail to alert the Prime Minister, and is Senator Gerstein therefore an integral part of the deception organized by Nigel Wright?” Liberal MP Ralph Goodale asked during Question Period.
Paul Calandra, the parliamentary secretary for the Prime Minister, replied that Mr. Wright has been very clear about who was brought into his confidence with respect to this scheme, “which the Prime Minister has said that had he known, it would have in no way been allowed to happen.”