Facing a growing crisis of confidence, the Senate has voted to turf one of its own members, officially suspending Patrick Brazeau while he responds to charges of assault and sexual assault.
The rare motion, put forward by Government Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton, was an attempt to “protect the dignity and reputation of the Senate and public trust and confidence in Parliament,” and places Mr. Brazeau among a small group of senators in the history of the institution who have been forced out.
Read the full text of the motion.
Mr. Brazeau’s suspension comes as the Senate leadership pushes for a quick end to a growing controversy over expenses that could force some senators to pay back housing allowances worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Having now appointed a majority of the members in the 105-seat chamber, Prime Minister Stephen Harper – who has managed to distance himself from the problems of an unelected, unaccountable Senate by promising to reform it – is left to wear responsibility for those he has appointed.
Mr. Harper’s plans to overhaul the Red Chamber are stalled as he waits as long as two years to hear the results of a Supreme Court reference on the matter.
In the meantime, public anger toward the Senate and its members is growing – with a recent poll showing a third of Canadians feel it should be abolished.
Mr. Brazeau, 38, had already been kicked out of the Conservative caucus. The Senate suspension means he will continue to collect his $132,000 salary, but access to expenses for travel and staff is expected to be heavily curtailed or possibly eliminated. His suspension would remain in effect until the case is resolved.
If he is cleared of the charges, Mr. Brazeau’s suspension would presumably be lifted. If found guilty, he could face a permanent expulsion, or he could resign to preserve his pension, provided the resignation comes more than six years after his December, 2008, appointment.
Mr. Brazeau made a surprise appearance Tuesday on Parliament Hill to witness the vote to suspend him, saying he was “just happy to be at work” as he walked into the chamber.
From a seat in the back row of the Red Chamber facing the Conservative leadership across the aisle, the controversial aboriginal leader and Canada’s youngest senator watched as he was officially suspended.
In addition to the criminal charges, Mr. Brazeau is among three senators who have claimed secondary residence expenses that are being reviewed by external auditors to determine whether the housing claims were inappropriate and should be returned.
On Monday, Ms. LeBreton and opposition leader James Cowan asked the Senate’s internal economy committee to move “as soon as possible” toward a final public report on whether any senators broke the rules.
At issue is a special housing allowance that senators can claim to cover the cost of a residence in the National Capital Region as long as they sign a document saying their primary residence is more than 100 kilometres from Parliament Hill.
The committee announced last week that it has referred the expenses of Conservative senators Mr. Brazeau and Mike Duffy, and Liberal Mac Harb to the external auditing firm Deloitte.
All three have all claimed more than $30,000 each for “living expenses in the National Capital Region” since the Senate began publishing detailed expenses online in the fall of 2010. But there are questions as to whether their primary residences are in fact more than 100 kilometres away.
Questions have also been raised as to whether Saskatchewan Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin qualifies as a Saskatchewan resident. Ms. Wallin’s situation is different from the other three senators in that she has not claimed the special expense.
In an opinion piece provided to The Globe and Mail, Ms. Wallin writes that, “My heart is in Wadena, Saskatchewan, and so is my home. Wadena is where I reside in my home province.”
Ms. Wallin also states that she spent 168 days in her home province last year and 94 days in Ottawa. She confirms that she owns one condo in Toronto.
“It’s the place where I worked for many of my years on national television before going to New York as the Canadian Consul General after 9/11. As my friends say, I actually live on airplanes,” she writes. On Tuesday evening, CTV reported that Ms. Wallin's expenses are being audited, focusing with the focus on her travel expenses. She is quoted as telling CTV: “I certainly did willingly meet with a representative from Deloitte to review travel expenses and I answered all questions and have provided all the necessary information regarding claims.”
The op-ed does not clarify any of the residence criteria listed in Monday’s letter by Senate leaders, such as where she pays taxes.
A Globe reporter requested an interview with Ms. Wallin through her office, as well as her answers to the Senate’s stated criteria for residence. Her office responded with a statement that the senator has provided all requested documentation to the Senate.
With reports from The Canadian Press