The Senate has approved a $600,000 boost to the budget of the office of its government leader, to allow him to operate as if he were a cabinet minister, sources said.
The funding influx comes as the Senate is embroiled in a spending scandal, and the leader of the government in the Senate, Claude Carignan, is struggling to get his motion to suspend three senators without pay to a vote.
The funding increase is a response to the fact that, unlike his predecessors, Mr. Carignan was not appointed to cabinet when he took over the position from Marjory LeBreton this summer.
The decision by the Prime Minister was seen as an expression of his displeasure with the scandal, including a police investigation and the controversy over the expenses of Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.
However, the move also meant that the Privy Council Office would no longer pay for a ministerial office in the Senate, as it does with all ministerial offices in Ottawa. In 2012-13, Ms. LeBreton’s office received $599,814 from the PCO, records show.
The Senate has agreed to make up the shortfall, and Mr. Carignan is now operating with a full staff of advisers, sources said. Mr. Carignan said the funds are coming from surplus budgets from other Senate business. “I likely will not spend the full amount this year,” he said.
The PCO confirmed on Thursday that it is no longer paying for Mr. Carignan’s office expenses.
Mr. Duffy, Mr. Brazeau and Ms. Wallin all face possible suspension without pay over allegations that they claimed tens of thousands of dollars in inappropriate expenses. All three are former Conservatives who were removed from the caucus this year.
After nearly two weeks of debate, Senate Conservatives tabled a new government motion on Thursday that combines all three proposed suspensions into a single vote. The move allowed them to impose a time limit on the debate, setting the stage for a final vote on Monday or Tuesday.
The new motion would also allow the senators to keep their life insurance and medical benefits if they are suspended, a change aimed at addressing concerns within the Conservative caucus that the suspensions without pay might go too far.
Conservative senators were initially under pressure to suspend the three senators before Friday night, when Mr. Harper is scheduled to address the Conservative convention. But debate in the Senate wrapped up early on Thursday and the Senate announced it would not sit Friday after it became clear a vote would not be possible before the weekend.
There had been some suggestions that senators would be personae non gratae at the convention after the turmoil created by the spending affair, but the early break will give Tory senators who still want to attend a chance to make their way to Calgary.
Mr. Carignan said Thursday that he will attend the convention, but does not know how many others will join him. The uncertainty of the timing of votes on the motions to suspend the three senators caused some to cancel flights and hotel rooms.
Conservative senators Tom McInnis of Nova Scotia and Doug Black, Betty Unger, and Scott Tannas from Alberta were on the list of participants of a symposium on Senate reform sponsored by the Manning Foundation that took place Thursday.
The PCO funds ministerial offices and offers its services to various departments as part of its normal activities. The funding that used to go to office of the government leader in the Senate was relatively small in comparison to other ministerial offices, with departments such as Justice or Defence receiving nearly $2-million a year.
“Since the leader of the government in the Senate no longer is a member of cabinet, the Privy Council Office does not have a budget that is allocated to the leader of the government in the Senate. In addition, PCO no longer offers any services to the office of the leader of the government in the Senate,” said PCO spokesman Raymond Rivet.
Mr. Carignan is a lawyer who was appointed to the Senate in 2009, one year after he failed to win a seat north of Montreal as a Conservative candidate. He has said that even though he does not sit in cabinet, he still has been sworn in as a member of the Privy Council and that he is “a member of some cabinet committees, including the cabinet committee on operations.”