Patrick Brazeau says he was offered 'backroom deal'
Senator facing suspension says Senate leader told him to apologize in exchange for lighter penalty
In a dramatic moment during a Senate debate over his suspension without pay, Senator Patrick Brazeau said he was offered what he called a "backroom deal" by the government leader of the Senate Friday morning.
"The deal was," said Brazeau, "that if I stood in this chamber, apologized to Canadians and took responsibility for my actions, that my punishment would be lesser than what is being proposed."
Brazeau and fellow senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin are facing motions that would suspend them without pay and benefits because of inappropriately claimed expenses.
Brazeau said Claude Carignan took him asideoutside the Senate chamber, and offered him the deal.
Carignan responded by backing up what Brazeau said, although he said his intent was not how Brazeau described it.
"I spoke to him out of friendship," Carignan said, "in saying, 'Senator Brazeau, please suggest something.'" Carignan said he suggested Brazeau's penalty could be "lighter."
It was an attempt to help Brazeau, Carignan said. "I regret he perceived it as an attack."
In a scrum with reporters in the Senate foyer shortly after Brazeau's statement, Carignan said, "I said to Brazeau, 'You could propose amendments or apologize. You could do some things to help your case.' And that was all."
Carignan said he's not dropping the motion to suspend Brazeau without pay, but, "I'm open and it's something that we could perhaps improve."
In a later scrum, after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Carignan said in French he has always been open to "friendly amendments." He said he was trying to explain that to Brazeau because, he said, Brazeau doesn't seem to understand the rules of the Senate very well.
Asked in English if he would have accepted amendments from Brazeau, Carignan replied, "I don't think so."
Wallin lays out her defence
During the same debate Friday, Senator Pamela Wallin seized the opportunity to carefully lay out her defence before her Senate colleagues as they debated whether to suspend her.
She said "the majority [Conservatives in the Senate] want my head on a platter," and then went through the accusations against her, point by point.
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When she met with the Senate internal economy committee in August about the private auditing firm Deloitte's audit of her expenses, Wallin said, she was not allowed to question the auditors, who were present, and her lawyer was not allowed to speak at all.
She said Deloitte found no evidence of fraud in her expenses, and had a hard time figuring out what "Senate business" meant.
Wallin said the rules about Senate business are "very, very vague." When, for instance, she said, she made a speech in a small town, and no record appeared about it online or in a newspaper, Deloitte would disallow it, discounting it as Senate business, although she argues it was.
She did check with "the powers that be" about whether she could fly to Toronto and stay overnight before proceeding to Saskatchewan, the province she represents, and received different answers. "It just depends who you asked and on what day," she said.
Deloitte found Wallin frequently flew to Toronto, where she owns a condo, and stayed a night or two nights before going to Saskatchewan, charging the Senate for the flight.
Senate rules allow only direct flights to and from a senator's home province, with no lengthy stopovers in-between. Wallin has always said she needed to overnight in Toronto to avoid a late night arrival in Saskatchewan and an hours-long drive to her home from the airport.
She sometimes mixed Senate business and private business in one return trip, Wallin said, explaining she would split the costs, charging one leg to the Senate, and one (as an example) to a company whose board meeting she attended.
"I want to say here again that I have made mistakes. None were purposeful, and none designed to benefit me personally," she said.
Wallin invited the listening senators "to fast forward to 2015" after the next federal election. If she's suspended without a fair hearing, she said, and Harper were to be re-elected, he "wouldn't be keen to reinstate me or invite me back.
"So, what if Mr. Trudeau was elected?" she continued. "I doubt he'd want to bring former Conservative senators back," implying that even if she was exonerated, she'd have no chance of sitting in the Senate again.
Wallin tabled several documents in the Senate Friday, mostly emails or letters written by her lawyer. Included was one that complains about LeBreton and Harper's current chief of staff reneging on a deal Wallin says they struck to allow her to say she was "recusing" herself from Conservative caucus, rather than resigning.
The email, addressed to LeBreton and Ray Novak, from lawyer Terrence O'Sullivan, says, "I am unaccustomed to being deceived and I don't intend to start now."
O'Sullivan goes on to say he has an email chain about the deal and complains LeBreton broke it within 10 minutes of Wallin leaving caucus by telling a reporter Wallin had resigned.
Vote next week
The Conservative leadership in the Senate gave notice Friday that it will seek closure on the debate. A vote on that motion, which can be preceded by up to six hours of debate, won't come until Monday or Tuesday, likely pushing a vote on the suspensions to mid-week.
Another factor in the timetable is that by Thursday, most Conservative senators will be heading to Calgary for the Conservative national policy convention.
The RCMP is investigating the expense claims of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau, but none of the three has been charged.
Brazeau faces charges of sexual assault in a separate matter.
Thursday's session showed increasing signs of a split in the Conservative caucus over the motions from Carignan to suspend the three. Conservative Senator Don Plett said Thursday that the motions are premature, making it clear he will not support them.
With files from Laura Payton