When the Senate bowed to public pressure on expenses

In the summer of 1993, the Senate acted to cancel an increase to senators' expense allowance after Canadians let them know they weren't pleased with the move.

26 years ago, senators rapidly unapproved a $6,000 expense allowance increase

Public outcry left the country's senators hastily reconsidering an expense allowance in 1993. 0:31

When Canadians start throwing around the words "rescind" and "rescinded" when talking politics, you know they've been doing their homework on an issue they aren't pleased with.

Twenty-six years ago, they were words Canadians were using to urge the Senate do something about a controversial $6,000 expense allowance increase that made a lot of people upset. (At that time, it would have topped up a base salary of $64,400 and an existing tax-free allowance of $10,400.) 

The increase was to apply to senators who lived outside of Ottawa, to cover travel and living expenses. But no matter what the rationale, it didn't please the public.

'It's ridiculous'

CBC talks to Parliament Hill visitors, hours before the Senate is set to rescind an expense allowance that Canadians opposed. 0:26

"They should rescind it. They should rescind it, absolutely — it's ridiculous," a woman visiting the Senate told CBC's Prime Time News on July 12, 1993, hours before senators were getting set to walk back the increase that they had approved for themselves just weeks before. 

"They think they deserve $6,000, I certainly don't," another visitor said. "I think [the increase] should be rescinded."

A rapid reversal

Members of the Senate were clearly feeling the pressure — hence the hasty change of heart.

In 1993, Canada's senators get ready to vote to rescind an increased expense allowance that they had approved just weeks before. 0:28

A vote on the evening of July 12 saw the senators vote 80-1 in favour of rescinding the increase.

"I think the Senate has taken the right decision in the public interest. It has shown that they are sensitive to public opinion," said Lowell Murray, a Conservative senator who was then the government leader in the Senate.

In 1993, senators voted 80-1 in favour of rescinding an increase to their expense allowance. 1:17

The lone vote against the backtrack came from Norbert Thériault, a Liberal senator from New Brunswick.

"There is an election and the leaders — the political leaders of the day — are not prepared to defend the Senate," he said, adding "if they are not prepared to defend the Senate, they should abolish it."

In 1993, Norbert Thériault explains why he voted against rescinding an increased expense allowance for senators. 0:23

The Senate wasn't abolished, but the damage had been done. The Conservative government of the day — at that point led by Kim Campbell for less than a month — fell to the Liberals in a federal election a few months later.