Politics

Don Meredith resigns from Senate over relationship with teen

Don Meredith has quit the Senate of Canada a week after the ethics committee recommended he be expelled from the Red Chamber for his relationship with a teen.

'The upper chamber is more important than my moral failings,' says Pentecostal minister

Don Meredith has quit the Senate. He sent a letter to colleagues today announcing his resignation. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

Don Meredith has quit the Senate of Canada a week after the ethics committee recommended he be expelled from the Red Chamber for his relationship with a teen.

"After consulting with my family, community leaders and my counsel over the past several weeks, I have decided to move forward with my life with the full support of my wife and children," the Pentecostal minister wrote in a letter to his Senate colleagues.

While Meredith does not use the word resignation in the letter, he says he hopes his "absence from the Senate will allow the senators to focus their good work on behalf of all Canadians."

"The path of expulsion being considered by my colleagues will have major implications for the Senate of Canada. This is a constitutional fight in which I will not engage," Meredith wrote in his letter, drafted on his Senate letterhead. "I am acutely aware that the upper chamber is more important than my moral failings."

In order for the resignation to officially take effect, Meredith will have to send a signed hard copy of the letter to Gov. Gen. David Johnston confirming his intention to vacate his Toronto-area seat.

Senators react to Don Meredith's resignation 1:13

There had been some uncertainty in constitutional circles as to whether the Senate has the right to expel one of its own members. The Senate law clerk, Michel Patrice, has strongly argued that it does have those powers based on a careful reading of the Constitution Act, 1867. Others have said that document enumerates only five specific areas as to when a senator can be permanently disqualified. Senator Raynell Andreychuk, chair of the five-member Senate ethics committee, tried to put an end to the legal haziness last week by calling that list "not exhaustive."

'Unfit to serve'

Bill Trudell, Meredith's lawyer, argued for a one- or two-year suspension without pay as a form of punishment for his two-year sexual relationship with a teenage girl. However, the ethics committee determined Meredith's conduct demonstrated "he is unfit to serve as a senator."

"No lesser sanction than expulsion would repair the harm he has done to the Senate," the committee said in its report. "He has abused his privileged position of authority and trust by engaging in behaviour that is incompatible with his office."

Meredith was given a deadline of five sitting days to respond to the committee's recommendations — a deadline that would have been reached Wednesday — before the Senate could hold a vote on expulsion. That process is now largely moot given Meredith's impending, voluntary departure.

Independent Senator Murray Sinclair, a member of the ethics committee, welcomed the news Tuesday of Meredith's decision.

"I think this is the best outcome for him. And I think now the Senate can move forward," he said.

Senators Murray Sinclair, Leo Houssakos, André Pratte, Larry Smith and Anne Cools respond to news Don Meredith is resigning 1:09

2 other investigations

Meredith is currently facing two other ethics investigations, including one related to alleged workplace harassment. However, as per the Senate ethics code, an inquiry or review against a senator who ceases to be a senator is "permanently suspended unless the [ethics] committee decides otherwise."

When asked about that investigation, Sinclair said because Meredith will soon no longer be a senator, "the authority of the Senate ethics officer is no longer in place."

Independent Senator Anne Cools said she spoke to Meredith this morning. "He sounded very resigned to me," she said. "He has come to his own peaceful decision. A resignation is voluntary whereas a removal is compulsory and it would become an historic event that will forever yield pain and suffering."

Cools said, even if it had come to a vote, she would have never endorsed his expulsion. "I will never vote to put any senator out of the Senate."

Senate pension

Any parliamentarian who has served six years, either in the House of Commons or the Senate, is eligible to collect a pension.

Meredith, 52, reached that number a few months ago, in December 2016, six years after his appointment by former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Barring any extraordinary attempt to prevent him from receiving that pension, Meredith would collect approximately $24,000 annually starting at age 60, according to calculations provided to CBC News by the Senate in March.

"His pension is vested and he's entitled to it," Sinclair said Tuesday of Meredith's entitlement.

However, Senator Leo Housakos, the chair of the Senate's powerful internal economy and budgets committee, said he hoped the Liberal government would move to strip Meredith of the parliamentary pension.

"He's walking away with the public shame that comes with this whole process, he's also lost his seat and the privilege of serving in the Senate of Canada, which is the most important thing of all, and now, hopefully, the government of Canada will do the right thing and deal with the pension issue," he said in an interview with Rosemary Barton on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

'We sweep nothing under the rug,' says Senator Leo Housakos after Don Meredith resigns from the Red Chamber. 5:02

By resigning, Meredith is following a well-worn path taken by other senators who were facing suspension or expulsion. Former Liberal senator Andy Thompson resigned and collected his pension after the Senate voted to suspend him from the chamber. Thompson posted continually dismal attendance records and was present in the chamber only 28 times in a 14-year period.

The Senate ethics officer, Lyse Ricard, released an explosive report in March documenting Meredith's relationship with a woman known as "Ms. M." Ricard found reason to believe Meredith and Ms. M had intercourse three times, including once when Ms. M was 17 years old.

Meredith has denied many of the allegations levelled against him by the woman in question, but he admitted he had sexual intercourse with her on at least one occasion when she was over 18.

Ricard's report found Meredith violated two sections of the code of ethics, namely that he did not uphold the highest standards of dignity inherent to his position, and that his actions reflected adversely on the institution of the Senate.

The ethics committee ultimately agreed with Ricard's conclusions. "He has brought disrepute to himself and to the institution. His presence in the chamber would in itself discredit the institution," the report reads.

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About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

With files from the CBC's Hannah Thibedeau