Pamela Wallin has delivered a scathing indictment of the Senate, saying two former colleagues engaged in a vendetta against her because of her high public profile.
Ms. Wallin, along with Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau – all appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper – is being threatened with suspension from the Red Chamber by her former Conservative colleagues.
Ms. Wallin said she was targeted by Marjory LeBreton, then the leader of the government in the Senate, and Carolyn Stewart Olsen, Mr. Harper’s former press secretary before joining the Senate, because she was outspoken in caucus and occasionally critical of the government. “They resented me because I was an activist senator,” Ms. Wallin told the Senate Wednesday.
The former broadcaster, who has paid back more than $150,000 in improperly claimed travel expenses, said the motion to dump her from the Senate that has been made by Government Senate Leader Claude Carignan is politically motivated.
“The real intent is to remove a perceived liability – namely me,” said Ms. Wallin. The aim, she said, is to appease the Conservatives who will meet at a party convention at the end of this month. They and other Canadians are angry, she said, after media reports inflamed public opinion. Those reports were based on 14 leaks from senators, said Ms. Wallin.
Although she and her lawyer were never able to determine the exact source of the leaks, she said she believed they came from Ms. LeBreton and Ms. Stewart Olsen.
Before Ms. Wallin spoke, Ms. Stewart Olsen announced she would step down from the Senate subcommittee that was responsible for a series of controversial audits of senators’ expense claims. Ms. Stewart Olsen was part of a three-member steering committee in charge of the Senate committee on the internal economy. The group came under scrutiny earlier this year for its handling of a report on Mr. Duffy’s housing expenses, which excluded more negative passages that were used in two other senators’ reports.
Ms. Wallin said the travel expense rules that were changed in June, 2012, were applied retroactively to 2009 when she became a senator. More than that, she said, she was subjected to a secret investigation. And when Ms. LeBreton called her to inform her last May that she must quit the Conservative caucus it was because Mr. Harper “wanted me gone, no discussion.”
She travelled a lot. “I worked hard and I may be guilty of not being able to say no as a senator when I was asked to come and speak,” she told the chamber. But she pointed out that there have been no criminal charges against her.
But to vote for the motion she is now facing, which she said would deprive her of her salary, her health benefits, her reputation and her ability to work in the future, is, she said, “to decide that the Constitution protections that are afforded to every Canadian are to be disregarded here and to bring the Senate into disrepute.”
Ms. LeBreton rose on a point of privilege to say Ms. Wallin was mistaken in her assertion that she was behind the move to push her out of the Senate. Ms. LeBreton said she both liked and respected Ms. Wallin and had considered her a friend and only acted after serious matters of spending improprieties had been brought to her attention.
“This issue is no longer about expenses or audits or transparency or accountability or even about the reputation of this chamber – it’s about the abuse of power,” Ms. Wallin said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Duffy rocked the Senate with assertions that he repaid money only because he was pressured by Conservative senators and the Prime Minister’s Office to do so, under the threat of losing his seat. He also said the protracted negotiations around the transfer of the money involved two lawyers from the PMO as well as a Conservative party lawyer and his own legal representative.
Stephen Harper maintains he knew nothing of $90,000 given to Mr. Duffy by Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s then-chief of staff, to allow Mr. Duffy to repay housing expenses that were claimed improperly.
Mr. Brazeau also addressed the Senate on Tuesday saying the Conservative government’s efforts to remove him were a denial of due process. Although all three senators are being investigated by the RCMP in relation to the money they claimed from the Senate, none has been charged with taking money illegally. Mr. Brazeau faces other separate charges as he faces assault and sexual assault as a result of an incident last February.
Although the motion to suspend the three senators is coming from the Conservatives, not all of the senators on the Tory side of the chamber agree with it.
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal said the motion to suspend Ms. Wallin is "poorly worded and turns Canada's Senate chamber into a star chamber." If it is passed, he said, it means that any future Senate could suspend a colleague who the majority deemed embarrassing or unpopular.
Mr. Segal raised a point of order objecting to Mr. Carignan's motion, saying the report on her expenses that was produced by the Senate's internal economy committee was tabled during the summer and died with prorogation. That means senators never voted on it, he said, so she has not been found guilty by the Senate and should not be punished.
The motion is now on hold until the Speaker of the Senate makes a ruling on the point of order.
Mr. Segal is not the only dissenter on the motion. Several, including Don Plett from Manitoba who was the founding president of the national council of the Conservative Party of Canada, have clapped for every statement in support of Ms. Wallin or Mr. Duffy.
But the question is how many are willing to vote against the motion which appears to have the sanction of Mr. Harper. Conservative MPs, who have been hearing about the scandal from their constituents, no doubt urged their Senate colleagues at a caucus meeting Wednesday to toe the party line.