Senators cast colleagues into political limbo
OTTAWA - Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau were cast Tuesday into political purgatory â€” suspended by the Senate and reviled by their former Conservative colleagues, including the prime minister who appointed them.
All three maintain they're the victims of a politically motivated witch hunt aimed at putting a lid on a Senate expenses scandal that has engulfed Stephen Harper's government for almost a year.
"I think it's an extremely sad day for democracy," Wallin said as she exited the Senate chamber after the vote, her voice heavy with emotion.
"If we can't expect the rule of law in Canada, then where on earth can you expect it?"
Brazeau said nothing as he left the Senate. Duffy did not show up for the vote.
But while the vote to suspend the trio marks the end of a protracted and politically damaging debate, the shock waves wrought by scandal â€” and particularly by bomshell revelations dropped by Duffy â€” are still reverberating for Harper and his Conservative government.
All three, along with former Liberal senator Mac Harb, are under investigation by the RCMP for making allegedly fraudulent expense claims. There is no end in sight to the steady drip of revelations from the Mounties as they file court documents in pursuit of evidence.
Auditor general Michael Ferguson, meanwhile, has begun a comprehensive audit of all senators' expense claims, which could yet turn up more wrongdoing.
If others are found to have committed a "pattern of abuse," government Senate leader Claude Carignan said Tuesday that more sanctions could yet be meted out.
Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau retain the title of senator and their health, dental and life insurance coverage, but get no pay and lose their Senate privileges and resources for the duration of the current parliamentary session, which could continue for two years.
Harper's office expressed satisfaction with the suspensions, which followed weeks of emotional, often explosive debate, punctuated by bombshells from Duffy that directly implicated the Prime Minister's Office in the scandal.
"Removing these three senators from the public payroll was the right thing to do," the PMO said in a statement.
"They should not be collecting a public paycheque."
But just hours before the Senate voted to suspend the three, Harper endured another question period grilling related to the fallout from Duffy's revelations. This time, it was about a leaked letter that shows the RCMP is seeking documents that "may potentially be evidence of criminal wrongdoing" by some in the PMO.
In particular, investigators are looking for emails related to a "script" Duffy alleges he was given by the PMO to cover up the fact that Nigel Wright, Harper's chief of staff at the time, gave him $90,000 to repay his disallowed living expenses.
Duffy has alleged that Wright, under instruction from the prime minister to make a political embarrassment go away, orchestrated a "monstrous" conspiracy to cover up the transaction. He claims PMO concocted a false story about him taking out a bank loan.
The move to suspend the three one-time star Conservative Senate appointees caused tensions within Tory ranks. But in the end, only one Conservative senator, Hugh Segal, voted against all three suspensions.
Six more Tory senators abstained on the motion to suspend Brazeau, four abstained when it came to Wallin and Duffy.
"For all those in the Conservative party across Canada who do believe in due process and the rule of law, do believe in fairness, I hope I tried to speak for them," said Segal.
Sen. Don Plett, a former president of the Conservative party who abstained on all three suspensions, could barely contain his anger as he left the chamber.
"Absolutely, I'm frustrated," he fumed. "I think the system was flawed."
Asked if he had a message for his three former Senate colleagues, Plett said: "God bless you and I hope to see you in two years."
Only one Liberal senator, Paul Massicote, voted for the suspensions.
Most Liberals voted against but seven, including Liberal Senate leader James Cowan, abstained â€” following the lead of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau who advised them to neither defend those who've abused the public purse nor aid Harper in "his attempt to whitewash what's gone on here."
"We don't think it was a fair process," Cowan said after the votes. "We think it was more designed to suit the political purposes of the prime minister to shut these three senators up before they could get out any more damaging material which further destroys the prime minister's credibility."
The trio will no longer be protected by parliamentary privilege from defamation lawsuits. And, without incomes, it may be harder for them to pay the legal fees needed to mount vigorous defences.
In the end, senators voted 50-29 to suspend Brazeau, with 13 abstentions, and 52-28 to suspend Duffy, with 11 abstentions. In Wallin's case, the vote was 52-27, with 12 abstentions.
Brazeau, who voted against his own suspension, sat hanging his head as the vote proceeded, then stood and shook the hand of Liberal colleague Jim Munson before leaving the chamber after the results were announced.
Wallin sat on the edge of her seat, her hands clenched in front of her, twitching her thumbs as the Yes votes were catalogued. She voted against suspending Brazeau and Duffy but chose to abstain when it came to the vote on her own fate.