Senate debate over suspensions reveals Tory dissenters

Senator Claude Carignan, the government leader in the Senate, said debate on motions to suspend Senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin will continue Friday. One Conservative senator said the motions are "at the very least premature."

Some fear booting Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau means any 'irritant' senator could be expelled

Cracks in the Senate story

10 years ago
Duration 4:27
The government's plan to suspend three former Conservative senators without pay is stalled tonight

Motions to suspend Senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin are "at the very least premature," Conservative Senator Don Plett said Thursday, making it clear he will not support them.

Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau have all fired back at a bid by Conservative senators to have the three suspended without pay and benefits for inappropriately claiming Senate expenses.

The Senate resumed its debate Thursday night, ending just before midnight ET. Debate resumed again on Friday morning.

The government leader in the Senate, Claude Carignan, said there would be no Conservative Senate caucus on Friday, and that the Senate will resume sitting at 9 a.m. ET.  A vote on some motions is possible.

Plett, the former president of the Conservative Party, and a powerful voice in the party, said suspending the three and stripping them of income would set a precedent that would allow the Senate to suspend any senator who is "an irritant."

Plett mentioned a Toronto police officer who has been charged with murder and yet is still receiving his pay while he awaits trial. Comparing this case to the three senators, he said, "We would be finding these senators guilty before giving them a fair trial."

"Honourable senators, I ask you. Please do the right thing," Plett finished, to a standing ovation from Liberals and several Conservatives in the chamber.

Plett, talking to reporters in the Senate foyer after his speech, said, "Senator Duffy is a heart patient, Senator Wallin is post-cancer patient and Senator Brazeau has a young family and to take away their benefits, to take away their livelihood, I don't think is fair."

Plett's position echoes that of fellow Conservative Hugh Segal, although Segal's attempt to have the motions dismissed because of lack of due process and fairness was disallowed by the Senate speaker. 

Segal, his voice rising, accused the Senate of "committing professional capital punishment on our colleagues." Segal emphasized he does believe the Senate has the power to discipline senators. However, he questioned whether that means it must take action he considers "mean, arbitrary and cruel."

Conservative MP wants to call in GG

Another Conservative voice protesting the motions is Alberta MP Peter Goldring. In the foyer of the House of Commons, Goldring told reporters he is considering appealing to the Governor General on the grounds he considers the motions unconstitutional.

Goldring said he is also lobbying Conservative senators to reject the motions to suspend the three senators. "I talked to some principal ones this morning and I'll be going back to my office to do more on it," he said.

One Conservative senator, Don Meredith, has said he supports a Liberal motion to have the matter sent to committee for further study.

As the Senate meets for a third day to debate the motions, the former Senate leader for the Conservatives demanded Senator Mike Duffy table a memo he claims came from LeBreton and gave him assurance his housing expense claims were in accordance with Senate rules. 

Marjory LeBreton lobbed insults at Duffy, saying she sometimes wanted to push her foot through her television when he was a TV host. She accused him of trading in gossip and boasting that TV news was show business. "He could sell air conditioners in Siberia," she said.

She objected to Duffy's account of a phone call in which he said she told Duffy he must resign from caucus, or she would issue a release saying he was removed.

When Duffy described this conversation in a blistering speech in the Senate Wednesday, he said LeBreton told him resigning was the only way to save his paycheque. Angrily denying this statement, LeBreton recounted she actually said to him, "Mike, this is the only option than can ensure your future livelihood."

LeBreton says story of memo 'makes no sense'

LeBreton also addressed Duffy's reference to a memo LeBreton wrote him shortly after he was appointed to the Senate which he said assured him he could claim housing expenses.

Senator Marjory LeBreton, former leader of the government in the Senate, arrives for the Senate session Thursday. LeBreton fought back against accusations by Senator Mike Duffy that she cleared his living expenses in a memo. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

For four years, Duffy claimed expenses for his Ottawa home because he declared his primary residence is in P.E.I., the province he represents in the Senate.

LeBreton pointed out the memo, which she says she can't find, was described by Duffy as dated January 2009,  "two to three weeks before the opening of Parliament and the Throne Speech, two to three weeks before Senator Duffy was officially sworn in as a senator. This makes no sense." 

LeBreton reminded the listening senators that in January 2009 the Liberals still had a majority both in the Senate and its committees, saying she wouldn't have had the power to make promises to Duffy about housing claims.

On the other side of the Senate, Liberal Senator Pierrette Ringuette called Wednesday for any emails or memos to be tabled in the Senate that might show the three senators were led to believe their expense claims were acceptable.

"That would certainly influence my opinion," said Ringuette. She added if such paperwork existed, "This would be like leading people down a certain road and once they get there, telling them that there is construction and that they have to turn around and go back home."

Thursday, Brazeau tabled a document he said confirmed Senate administration deemed him eligible to claim expenses for secondary housing. 

Beside the three motions of suspension, there is a motion from Liberal Senate leader James Cowan to refer the suspension issue to a special committee for further study.

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  • This story has been edited from a previous version to clarify Senator Hugh Segal's comments around the Senate's right to act in a manner that is "mean, arbitrary and cruel."
    Oct 24, 2013 11:30 PM ET

With files from The Canadian Press