Procedural wrangling in the Senate means a vote on whether three senators should be suspended and lose their pay won't happen until at least Friday, but amendments proposed late last night may allow them to keep their medical benefits even if they're suspended.
There are three motions on the table to suspend Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, and strip them of their salaries, office use and benefits because of inappropriately claimed expenses. The suspensions would last for two years, when the general election is expected to be held.
Claude Carignan, the Conservative Senate leader, bears some responsibility for the delay because he introduced motions to suspend his three colleagues last week, and then brought in another motion to limit debate time on his own motions.
On Tuesday, Conservative Senate deputy leader Senator Yonah Martin took the next step of moving the closure motion, so that debate could begin.
- NDP letter alleges PM misled the House
- 5 questions raised by Mike Duffy's latest blast
- Mike Duffy drops another bombshell: There were 2 cheques
- Who is Arthur Hamilton, the Conservatives' lawyer?
Liberal Senator Joan Fraser immediately raised a point of order arguing the motion to limit debate is a government motion for time allocation, yet the three motions to suspend the senators were introduced as non-government motions. She contended that the two cannot be mixed, and trying to do so constitutes "a dangerous precedent."
Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan told reporters in the Senate foyer that the Conservatives are trying to end the debate because, he said, Harper's coverup is unravelling.
The motion to limit debate was supposed to be moved Monday, but for some reason was not, meaning the vote on the suspensions will take place well after the Conservative Party's national policy convention in Calgary has begun.
The Senate finally adjourned at 11 p.m. ET Tuesday after the government side tried to move amendments that would allow the three senators to keep their medical benefits during suspension. Unanimous consent to introduce them was denied, so those amendments will have to wait until debate resumes Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET.
Afterward, Carignan said he supported the amendments because it would be difficult for the three senators to obtain private medical insurance during their suspensions, which are intended to last only until the end of the session, about two years. Carignan said the amendments would not change the length of the suspensions.
But Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who has defended Wallin in recent weeks, said the amendments don't address the "core question" of "a violation of due process.
"And while it shows a touch of humanity that people who might be ill or otherwise might be able to use their medical plan, the core violation of due process is unchanged by the amendment, therefore my view about the process and the degree to which it's a violation of natural justice is unchanged as well," he told reporters as he left the upper chamber late Tuesday.
Duffy's dramatic revelation of 2 cheques
The Senate is deliberating in the wake of Duffy's dramatic revelation Monday that he had received not one cheque related to ineligible expenses he claimed, but "at least two" via the Prime Minister's Office.
In a strongly worded speech earlier this week, Duffy explained that not only had the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, given him $90,000 to repay his housing claims, but the Conservative Party's lawyer had transferred $13,500 to Duffy's lawyer.
That second cheque, Duffy told the Senate, was to pay the legal fees run up as he finessed a cover story with the PMO that he was voluntarily repaying money using a personal loan from his own bank.
While question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday included opposition queries about the ethics of the PMO allegedly financing a legal deal for Duffy meant to deceive the public, the Senate is taken up with what to do with the three senators who have had to pay back inappropriately claimed expenses.
At a Conservative Senate caucus meeting Tuesday morning, senators discussed whether they could accept any compromises in the suspension motions. Topics ranged from whether some suspensions should be a year or a year and a half long, rather than two years, and whether health benefits should stay in place during the suspensions.
Up for discussion, as well, is a motion from the Liberals that would send the suspension issues to a Senate committee where Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau could make presentations, ask and be asked question and be represented by lawyers.
Meanwhile, Conservative Senator Larry Smith confirmed he and more than a dozen other senators were briefed by officials from the auditor general's office Tuesday morning about audits about to be conducted on all senators' spending.
It's not known whether Michael Ferguson will extend the audits back over a period of years, but senators who are contemplating cutting the pay of three of their colleagues as a penalty for making inappropriate expense claims must realize a precedent could be set that could apply to other senators in the future.