Senator Patrick Brazeau has been barred from the Senate chamber, and the senate's financial management committee may withhold some or all of his Senate expenses, possibly including funds for transportation, travel, goods, premises and telecommunications.
Brazeau, who was charged with assault and sexual assault last week, showed up for the Senate sitting today, telling reporters as he walked in the chamber that he was glad to be back at work. He did not vote against the motion that has effectively banned him from the Senate.
A motion by the government caucus of the Senate, and seconded by the opposition, forced the 38-year-old Brazeau, appointed by Harper, on a leave of absence with pay.
Brazeau is now an Independent, because he has been kicked out of the Conservative caucus, but he cannot take his seat in the Senate.
Conservative Senator Terry Stratton explained that Brazeau will still have the right to work as a senator, even though he can't attend sittings, with the exception of being let in once a session in order to continue being paid.
"As an Independent, he is still a senator and has a right to carry out his duties," Stratton said. "He's not convicted. So until he's convicted, he's presumed innocent. So he has the right to carry out his senatorial duties …. He still has an office here, he still has his phone, he has an assistant."
Stratton, a Manitoba senator recommended for appointment by Brian Mulroney, is now 75 and due to retire in March. He recalls when Senator Andrew Thompson was suspended from the Senate because he rarely attended sessions and appeared to be living in Mexico.
Stratton was also part of the move to expel Senator Raymond Lavigne from the Senate. Lavigne was convicted of fraud after he spent Senate money and used its staff to clear trees from his property.
"The motion was in my hand to put, but he resigned," said Stratton of Lavigne. "Anyone with a collectable pension has always resigned before any motion."
If a senator is expelled from the Upper House, he or she becomes ineligible to collect a pension, which is why a resignation usually comes first. Brazeau, the youngest senator ever appointed, has not yet served long enough to collect a pension.
'Senate can do anything it wants'
Asked whether the Senate has the constitutional power to expel a senator, since it has never done so in its history, Stratton said, "Ma'am, 'Ma'am, the Senate can do anything it wants.'
Stratton sits on the Senate's Board of Internal Economy, the governing body of the Senate, which will be requiring every senator to provide proof of residence if they claim living expenses for having a residence in Ottawa.
This move comes in the wake of Brazeau, as well as senators Mike Duffy and Mac Harb, being accused of charging possibly illegitimate living expenses for residing in or very near Ottawa, and claiming that their primary residences are at least 100 kilometres outside Ottawa.
Brazeau has claimed he lives in his father's apartment in Maniwaki, Que., quite a distance from Ottawa, and yet has a house in Gatineau. Duffy claims to live in P.E.I., yet has owned a house in an Ottawa suburb for a decade. Harb has lived in Ottawa since the 1970s, yet claims, for Senate purposes, that he lives in Pembroke, Ont., a 90-minute drive from Ottawa.
All three senators have claimed living allowances, per diems and travel expenses for having to maintain a secondary residence in Ottawa.
"If you say you reside in Prince Edward Island and that's your principal residence, well it's an honour system. In the past, if someone has said, 'I live in whatever, and I have an apartment in Ottawa,' and it's a secondary residence, they're allowed to charge," said Stratton.
He admits that the honour system, which he thinks has worked well until now, may have to change.
Stratton doesn't know why Brazeau and Harb have claimed to live 100 kilometres outside the capital. However, he pointed out, "You sign an oath at the beginning of every Parliament that you are a resident of the province of which you were appointed. You sign that every Parliament. I have sworn this signed oath I don't know how many times now. The clerk is quite clear when he sits you down that you read it."
'Zero tolerance,' possible legal action
Liberal Senator James Cowan, Opposition leader of the Senate, admitted Tuesday that it has not been an easy week for the Senate. Cowan added: "We have zero tolerance for people who are abusing the rules."
Cowan stressed that "not everyone" in the Senate is abusing the rules, but anyone who was found to be submitting unwarranted expense claims would be "dealt with with the full force of the law."
Cowan, along with government leader Senator Marjory LeBreton, wrote a letter to the Senate's internal economy board Monday urging that errant senators be forced to pay back illegitimate claims with interest, but mentioned nothing about legal action.
But Tuesday, when asked by reporters whether filing a false claim constitutes fraud, Cowan said, "If the committee found that someone made a false declaration, that will be referred to the authorities, I would think. That's what I would expect."
Wayne Easter, a Liberal MP from P.E.I., said that over the weekend, in the midst of a big snowstorm, he'd been talking to island residents who asked, "I wonder if Senator Duffy shovelled himself out, like the rest of us."
Dealing with the storm is what P.E.I. life is like, Easter suggested, not "flying in, doing an announcement for the prime minister, and flying out."