Vote on fates of Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau stalled until Tuesday

The Senate has adjourned until Monday after the introduction of a new government motion to suspend three of its senators but allow them to retain their medical benefits.

Process in the Senate that should have taken a few days drags out over 2 weeks

Leader of the Government in the Senate, Sen. Claude Carignan speaks with the media about a new motion to suspend Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau without pay. However the three senators would be allowed to keep their health benefits. (Adrian Wyld/ Canadian Press)

The Senate has adjourned until Monday after the introduction of a new government motion to suspend three of its senators but allow them to retain their medical benefits.

If the motion passes, senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau will be able to keep life insurance and dental coverage as well, but will be stripped of their salaries, office budgets and even their cell phone plans. 

In the meantime, a final Senate vote on the suspensions without pay hangs in abeyance, as it has for over a week.

The red chamber moved Thursday to adjourn at the end of the day so that Conservative senators can be free Friday to attend their party's national policy conference in Calgary. 

Because the Senate isn't sitting Friday, it means the vote that would finally decide the fate the three senators might not happen until Tuesday of next week.

The suspensions are meant to be a Senate-imposed sanction because of their inappropriate expense claims for housing and travel.

The three senators are also being investigated by the RCMP over their expenses, but none has been charged. Many Liberals and a few Conservatives believe any suspensions should be put on hold until they are charged, if that happens, or even convicted.

The Conservatives have a large majority in the Senate.

On Thursday, deputy government Senate leader Yonah Martin gave notice of a government motion that would limit debate to about six hours on the suspension issue. It's a process that guarantees a vote on the suspension motion will happen relatively quickly.

If the motion passes next week, shortly after, the department of Public Works will stop issuing pay cheques to Duffy, Wallin and  Brazeau.

But, in a sense, the government Senate leadership is starting all over again in its attempt to bar the three senators from the chamber and cease their pay cheques.

Procedural wrangling

Much of the blame for the procedural wrangling that's caused a delay seems to lie, in fact, right at the feet of the government leadership in the Senate.

Government Senate leader Claude Carignan, newly appointed as leader and a rookie in the complex maze of Senate procedure, didn't do himself any favours by introducing the suspension motions as non-government motions early last week.

He may have used this tactic to let Conservative senators vote freely, knowing many would feel uncomfortable voting against a government motion, even if they believe the proposed suspensions are unfair. Senators Hugh Segal and Don Plett, both Conservatives, have spoken about what they see as a lack of due process for Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau.

But when Carignan tried to impose closure to limit debate time as a government motion, the  Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella ruled a government closure motion can't be applied to a non-government motion.

Had Carignan made the suspensions government motions from the beginning, he could have brought in closure and forced a vote within a few days.

But he didn't, and the results of that initial decision have been damaging to the government.

Duffy may speak again

The delay meant Duffy has had a chance to speak not once, but twice, and may speak again on Monday. Each time his addresses have been explosive and revealing, as he releases details about a deal he says lawyers in the Prime Minister's Office as well as the Conservative Party were in on.

The deal meant Duffy's disallowed housing expenses were paid for by Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, with a personal $90,000 cheque. In return Duffy said he was obliged to make it seem as if he were paying them back himself, with contrition and even an apology about how repayment was "the right thing to do."

In his second speech, Duffy revealed his legal fees over the negotiation of the deal, $13,500, were paid for by a cheque from the Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton.

The delay has also meant Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been hammered for days in question period with queries about the Duffy-Wright deal, and how much he knew about it.

Finally, the stalling of the Senate vote means Harper can't address Conservative Party members gathered at the Calgary convention and announce the three senators have been kicked out and deprived of their salaries. The convention is underway, and lasts through Saturday.


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