The Senate’s Tory leadership has cast out three former Conservatives from the Red Chamber, but the controversy over those senators’ expense claims has exposed rifts inside the party and has put Stephen Harper’s office at the centre of questions about what role it played.
The Senate voted Tuesday to suspend Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau without pay over allegations that each claimed tens of thousands of dollars in improper expenses. The senators will be allowed to keep their life insurance and medical benefits but will lose their paycheques and other Senate privileges until the end of the current legislative session, likely in 2015. The contentious motion revealed fissures in the Tory caucus, with several Conservatives arguing the government did not give Mr. Duffy, Ms. Wallin and Mr. Brazeau an adequate opportunity to defend themselves. And the suspensions raise questions about the future of the institution as Prime Minister Stephen Harper seeks to move on from the controversy.
But many senators say the episode has left the institution itself damaged and exposed the need for immediate reforms around accountability. And with senators like Mr. Duffy now on the outside, there are new questions about the role of the Prime Minister’s Office.
On Tuesday, Mr. Duffy made public a letter from the RCMP to his lawyer asking for e-mails and documents that would back up the Senator’s version of events. Mr. Duffy had earlier told the Senate that the Prime Minister’s Office gave him media lines telling him how to speak about the repayment in public.
Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, left the job earlier this year after it was revealed that he had given Mr. Duffy about $90,000 to pay back questionable housing expenses. During more than two weeks of debate on the proposed suspensions, Mr. Duffy revealed that his legal fees were covered by the Conservative Party of Canada in addition to the cheque from Mr. Wright.
All three senators have argued that they are victims of political expediency and were not given a reasonable opportunity to defend themselves or be heard fairly. All were appointed by Mr. Harper, making it more difficult for the Prime Minister to distance himself from the controversy.
Claude Carignan, the government leader in the Senate, accused Liberal senators on Tuesday of approaching the proposed sanctions in a partisan manner by opposing a Tory bid to limit the debate, even though both party leaders said they allowed a free vote on the suspensions.
“The decision to suspend these senators also means putting aside partisan interests,” Mr. Carignan said. “Unfortunately, over the past two weeks, the Liberals have shown that partisanship is more important to them than the greater interest of Canadians and of the institution.”
Mr. Carignan’s words closely mirrored a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday night, which said the Liberals used “delay tactics” to slow the suspensions. “These senators have been found by auditors to have claimed inappropriate expenses. They should not be collecting a public paycheque,” Jason MacDonald wrote in an e-mail.
Four Conservatives abstained on all of the suspension votes. Two others abstained on Mr. Brazeau’s suspension motion, but voted with the government to suspend Ms. Wallin and Mr. Duffy. Daniel Lang, one of the two who abstained in the vote on Mr. Brazeau, said on Monday night that he believed the allegations against the Quebec senator were less serious than the those faced by Ms. Wallin and Mr. Duffy.
Hugh Segal, the only Conservative to vote against the suspension motions, said he tried to speak for those across the country who believe in due process and the rule of law. “You don’t get to win every battle, and in our system, majorities count. There was a strong majority on the other side and I accept that, and I just move on.”
Conservative Senator Don Plett, who spoke against the suspensions, said he knew “we had no chance of winning this.” Mr. Plett abstained on all three votes.
After the vote, Ms. Wallin told reporters she wanted to thank senators who abstained. “It’s an extremely sad day for democracy. If we can’t expect the rule of law in Canada, then where on earth can we expect it?”
James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate, said he does not think the process was fair to the three senators.
“I think we’ve been clear on our side that we don’t respect the process, we don’t think it was a fair process, and we think that it was more designed to suit the political purposes of the Prime Minister to shut these three senators up before they could get out any more damaging material which destroys, or further destroys, the Prime Minister’s credibility,” he said.
Most Liberals voted against the suspensions, but a handful chose to abstain. Only one Senator Paul Massicotte, voted in favour of the suspensions.