The Senate is studying proposals for instituting a system of penalties for senators who break the rules.

The idea is still in the discussion stage by the bipartisan conflict of interest committee, but the plan is to have guidelines in place to cover different kinds of offences in time for the auditor general's report on senators' expenses.

Michael Ferguson is conducting detailed audits of every senator, going back two years, and is expected to report by the end of the year.

The government Senate leader, Claude Carignan, told Radio-Canada's Madeleine Blais-Morin the Senate is reviewing its code of conduct and looking for a way to determine what kind of penalties should be imposed on senators who have ethical lapses or exhibit a pattern of inappropriate behaviour.

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Government leader in the Senate Claude Carignan hopes to draw up guidelines and penalties on wrongdoing by senators as soon as possible. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Speaking in French, Carignan said the severity of the penalties might depend on the good or bad intentions of the senator, or the repetitive nature of the transgression.

He said the committee might take guidance from the British House of Lords, which is considering specific penalties for members who breach its code of conduct. The proposed punishments include the docking of pay for a period of time, or denying members access to the facilities of the House.

Carignan said that once the criteria for sanctions are established, the final decision on an individual senator would be made by the entire Senate.

The process would take place in the same way the nearly hundred members voted on suspensions without pay for senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. All three were sanctioned for claiming inappropriate housing or travel expenses.

Wrongdoing would be made public

Carignan told Blais-Morin the wrongdoing of an individual senator would be made public because all Senate sessions in the Red Chamber are broadcast and can be listened to as they happen,

Currently there are only a few codified penalties, including expulsion for a senator if he or she is convicted of a serious crime, or has missed two consecutive sessions of the Senate. 

Senators can also be fined if they are absent for too many sittings.

Carignan didn't have a timetable for when a list of penalties would be drawn up, but said he hopes it will be as soon as possible.

With files from Madeleine Blais-Morin