Connect to share and comment

Suspension debate ends with Brazeau warning to colleagues: 'It can happen to you'

PlacardEnlarge
(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

OTTAWA - The fate of three disgraced former Conservative senators is all but sealed, despite the trio's professions of innocence and mounting concern amid Tory ranks that they're being treated unjustly.

The Harper government used its majority muscle in the Senate on Monday to shut down debate on the proposed suspensions of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau for "gross negligence" in claiming improper travel and living expenses.

That paves the way for a final vote Tuesday on a motion that would strip the trio of their pay, privileges and Senate resources, while allowing them to continue being covered by the chamber's health, dental and life insurance plans. The suspensions would be for the duration of the parliamentary session, which could last for two years.

The closure motion passed easily by a vote of 51-34, with five Conservative senators breaking ranks to defy Prime Minister Stephen Harper's insistence that the three erstwhile caucus colleagues — whom he appointed and once feted as stars — should be booted off the public payroll as quickly as possible.

Conservative senators John Wallace, Nancy Ruth and Hugh Segal voted against limiting debate and two more Tory senators, Don Plett and Don Meredith, abstained.

Wallin, the only one of the three disgraced senators in the chamber, also abstained.

In later debate on the proposed suspensions, at least two more Conservative senators — Daniel Lang and Bob Runciman — expressed uneasiness about the severity of the sanctions; they may yet vote against suspending one or more of the three.

But while the move has exposed a sizable rift within the normally cohesive Conservative ranks, the dissenters are too few to prevent the government from carrying its motion to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau. It is scheduled to be put to a vote Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. (ET).

Shortly before debate ended late Monday, Brazeau made a last-ditch, emotion-packed appeal for senators to reconsider his case, arguing that he's the victim of what he called "a shameless farce," "show trial" and "gong show."

He bitterly denounced former Conservative colleagues — particularly former government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton and internal economy committee members David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen — for conspiring to run him out of the Senate, for misrepresenting the findings of an independent audit which found no wrongdoing on his part, for repeatedly ignoring his pleas for due process and spreading rumours about his troubled personal life.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm still a human being and I deserve at least some level of respect," he told the upper house as the debate dragged on toward midnight.

His voice choking with emotion as he made what will likely be his last speech in the Senate, Brazeau directed some remarks to his children.

"You are too young to understand what is going on here. I am much older than you and I barely understand," he said.

"It is very important that you understand that I am not guilty of what some of these people are accusing me of. It is very important that you know that I am not a thief, a scammer, a drunken Indian, a drug addict, a failed experiment or a human tragedy."

Brazeau's staff, sitting in the Senate gallery, were in tears as he finished his remarks to applause from both Liberal and Conservative senators.

Earlier Monday, Brazeau sent a letter to all parliamentarians, warning that his suspension will set a precedent that could come back to bite any one of them.

"Colleagues, if this can happen to me, it can happen to you, " he wrote.

"The rules may change without your knowledge and you may find yourself kicked out of your caucus, being suspended without pay and being scapegoated in the media as some kind of entitled 'fat cat.'

"This can happen in spite of the fact that you are completely compliant with a given policy. This can happen even though you never submit per diems for lunch and brown bag it every day. Your compliance is irrelevant if internal economy says that it is, as they are above the law."

His appeal resonated with some of Brazeau's former caucus mates.

Plett — a former Conservative party president and one of Harper's most loyal foot soldiers — said suspending the three senators before the RCMP has finished investigating or laid any charges sets an "extremely dangerous precedent."

"Without giving colleagues a fair opportunity to make their case, we would be able to oust colleagues that are perceived as a political liability."

He said he's received almost 600 emails on the proposed suspensions and more than 80 per cent of them are supportive of his position.

Nevertheless, Plett took pains to defend Harper as "a man of the highest ethical standards" and shot down suggestions the prime minister is forcing the majority of Tory senators to support the suspensions.

"In the many discussions that I have personally had with our prime minister, he has always encouraged me to stand firm on my principles and to vote my conscience, even when we may disagree on an issue."

Wallace denounced the government's bid to impose the same penalty on all three senators for allegedly claiming improper living and travel expenses, regardless of the different facts and circumstances surrounding each case.

The government's "one-size-fits-all approach ... flies directly in the face of the reality that these are three separate individuals with three very different sets of facts and circumstances," he said.

Noting that the suspensions would deprive the trio of their livelihoods and could irreparably damage their reputations and ability to find alternate jobs, Wallace also denounced the government's bid to limit debate on such a serious move.

"We absolutely cannot take any shortcuts to achieving a fair and just result for those who stand accused."

However, government Senate leader Claude Carignan dismissed the objections, arguing that the trio's "reprehensible" misconduct demands swift disciplinary action in order to restore public trust in the Senate.

"We cannot ask Canadians to respect this institution if we do not respect it ourselves," he said.

While the government easily won the motion to shut down debate on the proposed suspensions, it will find it much harder to put a lid on the controversy that's been raging over the Senate expenses scandal for almost a year.

Liberals in the House of Commons are set to introduce Tuesday a motion instructing the Commons ethics committee to hold televised hearings into the conduct of the Prime Minister's Office in the payment of Duffy's disallowed expense claims, including calling Harper as a witness, under oath.

Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, personally gave Duffy $90,000 to repay his expenses. Harper claims Wright acted alone and that he knew nothing about the transaction, although as many as a dozen other PMO staffers and top party officials did know about it.

Duffy has alleged that Wright, under instruction from the prime minister to make a political embarrassment go away, orchestrated a "monstrous" conspiracy to cover up the transaction.

CBC News reported Monday that a letter it has obtained shows the RCMP are seeking emails and documents related to Duffy's allegations.

“The existence of such documentation may potentially be evidence of criminal wrongdoing by others,” Supt. Biage Carrese, of the RCMP National Division, wrote in the Nov. 1 letter.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/131104/rift-among-conservatives-deepens-vote-senate-suspensions-loo