The Conservative majority in the Senate voted down Liberal motions Wednesday that would have sent the matter of the proposed suspensions of three senators to a committee.
A committee hearing would have saved senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau from being suspended without pay in the immediate future.
The three senators are in hot water because of inappropriately claimed expenses. All have repaid thousands of dollars for disallowed housing and travel claims. Brazeau's wages are being garnisheed and he hasn't yet completed his repayment.
The votes on Wednesday evening mean the three won't be able to argue their cases, with their lawyers present, before a Senate committee of their peers that would have eventually made recommendations about whether they deserve to be suspended.
Their fate remains in the hands of the entire Senate, which has been debating their proposed suspensions for over a week, often late into the night.
Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau are still facing motions that would strip them of their salaries as well as the use of their offices and cellphones, and any travel. Those final motions may not be voted on until Friday, or even early next week.
A motion to keep health benefits
Earlier in the day, the government leadership in the Senate introduced proposals that would allow the three senators to keep their health benefits and life insurance if they are suspended from the Senate without pay.
The various procedural wranglings mean most Conservative senators will miss their party's national policy convention in Calgary, which begins Thursday afternoon and ends Saturday, unless there is an adjournment that would allow them to attend.
Tuesday night, Conservative Senate leader Claude Carignan told reporters who were waiting outside the Senate chamber that Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau would have a difficult time obtaining private life insurance if they are suspended for two years.
Asked why he was agreeable to the three keeping their benefits, Carignan said, "Because it's logical," implying the Senate was contemplating suspending the three senators, not expelling them completely.
Carignan added there was no plan to shorten the length of the proposed suspensions, as had been rumoured.
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, an old friend of Wallin's who argued in her defence this week, agreed there would be "a touch of humanity" allowing the three senators to keep benefits and insurance, but he's still troubled by "the lack of due process," if they end up getting suspended without pay before they get "a fair hearing."
Duffy has had serious heart problems and Wallin is a former cancer patient. In an impassioned speech to the Senate last week, Duffy plaintively asked, "Who will pay for my heart drugs?"
Asked whether Conservative senators might soften and go for shorter suspensions, Segal said, "I have no reason to believe that, I'm afraid."
The Senate adjourned shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday, and will sit again Thursday at 2 p.m.
3 main motions on table
There are three main motions on the table to give each senator a suspension of two years, around the time a general election is expected to be held.
Carignan bears some responsibility for the time the decision is taking because he introduced his own motions to suspend his three colleagues early last week. Days later, he brought in a government motion to limit debate time on the proposed suspensions.
However, on Wednesday, the Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella ruled Carignan couldn't impose a government motion on his own private motions.
Liberal Senate leader James Cowan told reporters in the Senate foyer that the Conservatives are trying to force an end to the debate because, he said, Harper's coverup is unravelling.
Harper has been on his feet in question period all week, attempting to thwart opposition attacks over his former chief of staff's payment of Duffy's $90,000 tab for inappropriate claims and arrangement to have the Conservative Party pay Duffy's legal fees.
However, Conservative MP Jay Aspin said Wednesday, "It's all the Liberals' fault, if they'd just get out of the way we could get rid of these senators."
Even some senators are having a hard time following the procedural twists and turns in the chamber.
Conservative Senator Don Meredith said Tuesday during the debate, "We've got sub-motions before us, we've got motions and counter-motions."
Liberal Senator Joseph Day said, "You almost need a scorecard to keep on top of this."