Senate votes to suspend Andrew Thompson

The Senate found truant Senator Andrew Thompson in contempt of the upper chamber on Thursday and took the historic step of suspending him without pay for chronic absenteeism. The vote was 52 in favour, one against and one abstention.

It's the first time in the Senate's 130-year history that it suspended one of its members and stripped him of all pay and perks.

The Senate found the Ontario Liberal in contempt of the upper chamber for not complying with orders to come to Ottawa to explain his attendance record.

Thompson loses his $64,400 salary and $10,100 tax-free expense allowance. He lost his Senate office and other privileges in December.

If Thompson wants a paycheque, he could resign and collect his collect his $48,000 annual pension.

Tory Senator Terrance Stratton, who voted against the suspension, said the penalty was too lenient. He wanted Thompson expelled as did Senator Ron Ghitter of Alberta who walked out of the red chamber rather than vote.

Manitoba Senator Sharon Carstairs said Thursday's attendance was poor because many senators are ill and two Senate committees are on the road.

Thompson sent a fax to the Senate on Wednesday. In it he said he was too sick to appear at the hearing to explain his poor attendance.

The Liberal Senator is 73 years old and the suspension would last until he has to retire at age 75.

It stopped short of recommending he be expelled, citing possible constitutional complications.

"At no time have I wished to be in contempt of the Senate," Thompson wrote. "I respect the institution. When the doctors approve my fitness to travel, I will appear."

He has attended the Senate 47 times in the last 14 years and only 14 times since that GST debate in 1990.

He is not technically in violation of any Senate rule, because he has not missed two complete consecutive sittings.

He has also produced valid medical certificates to account for his absence. Under Senate rules, a member who produces a certificate is not considered to be absent.