Lynn Beyak snipes at Andrew Scheer, but she's the Senate's problem now

Any political injury suffered now by Andrew Scheer is at least less than the damage that would have been inflicted by Lynn Beyak's continued presence in the Conservative caucus. Officially, she is only the Senate's problem now.

NDP MP says Beyak is unfit to serve in upper chamber

Sen. Lynn Beyak, left, had some unflattering things to say about Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer after he expelled her from the caucus last week. (CBC News/Canadian Press)

Sen. Lynn Beyak's claim that her official website has "given Canadians a voice for free speech" could be read as a taunt directed at her former party leader.

Of course, no one has a right to post racist comments from supporters on their official Senate website. Nor does anyone have a right to sit as a member of the Conservative Party's parliamentary caucus

But Andrew Scheer loudly worried about free speech on university campuses during his leadership campaign and has promised he would withhold federal funding from universities that failed to uphold some standard of freedom.

And now Beyak is claiming it as her cause.

"As an Independent senator, I will continue to be a voice for freedom of speech," Beyak said. "I consider it my duty and my role, as well as a great privilege, to speak on behalf of so many wise Canadians."

That might sting a bit. As could Beyak's description of Scheer as "an inexperienced leader" who won "by a small margin" and who fell for a whipped-up controversy over comments posted on her website and gave in to "political correctness."

But any injury suffered now is at least less than the damage that would have been inflicted by Beyak's continued presence in the Conservative caucus.

Officially, she is only the Senate's problem now.

Should Scheer have acted earlier?

Whatever else Beyak might say about him in the future, the more difficult question for Scheer is whether he should have acted sooner to have her removed from caucus. 

Dating back to last March, Beyak had been building a record of incendiary comments on residential schools and the treatment of Indigenous Canadians, and Scheer condemned her comments in September. That same month, a residential school survivor expressed a general concern to Scheer about the letters that were appearing on the senator's website.

'Racism will not be tolerated in the Conservative Caucus or Conservative Party of Canada,' Scheer said in a statement regarding Beyak's removal from caucus. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

In expelling her last week, Scheer was specific about what had crossed his line, pointing to a supporter's letter that cast racist aspersions on Indigenous culture. He said he became aware of the comment on Jan. 2.

"Racism will not be tolerated in the Conservative Caucus or Conservative Party of Canada," Scheer said in a statement. 

Drawing a line at racism is fairly easy and expelling her any earlier could have raised even louder cries about Scheer's tolerance for free speech, but he might've sent a clearer message that he and his party would accept no attempt to diminish the historic blight of residential schools.

Should the Senate expel Beyak?

It was Scheer's predecessor, Stephen Harper, who nominated Beyak for the Senate in 2013.

It is that appointment that now puts her beyond the easy reach of voters. And it is to that chamber that attention now turns.

Liberal ministers Carolyn Bennett and Jane Philpott wrote to Scheer on Monday to ask that he speak with the remaining senators in his caucus about having the "offensive material" removed from Beyak's Senate website.

Last week, NDP MP Charlie Angus wrote to Justin Trudeau to ask that he enlist the support of independent and Liberal senators, as well as Scheer and Conservative senators, in hopes they might "use the tools of the Senate to address Ms. Beyak's fundamental unfitness to serve as a representative of the Canadian people."

That is an exceedingly delicate way of calling for the senator to be expelled entirely from the upper chamber. But Angus is not the first to suggest as much.

Cleaning up Beyak's website or applying some new standard on the use of parliamentary resources should be easy enough to do. But expelling Beyak would be somewhat unprecedented. Last spring, the Senate moved to expel Don Meredith and might have followed through had he not resigned first.

In that case, the Senate was condemning a senator's actions with an officer of Parliament's ruling in hand: Meredith's sexual relationship with a teenager was found to have violated the Senate's ethics code.

In this case, Beyak's offences are about words or opinions, or the promotion of other people's opinions, however offensive and derogatory.

On the one hand, words are not benign and no Canadian has an unassailable right to sit in the Senate. On the other hand, senators might meditate on the standard that would be set before moving against Beyak.

For however long she occupies a seat in the Senate, Beyak will linger as a sore spot for an institution that will forever struggle to be regarded as worthy of respect.

If she is willing and able, Beyak can continue on as a senator until Feb. 18, 2024, when she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75.


Aaron Wherry

Parliament Hill Bureau

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.