Tuesday, November 05, 2013

"Taxpayers, meet 'The Honourable' Senators Duffy-Wallin-Brazeau with titles, health and dental benefits but no pay!"

Senate to vote on Brazeau, Duffy, Wallin suspensions as new RCMP letter surfaces

By Jordan Press/Andrea Hill
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Senator Pamela Wallin arrives at the Senate on Parliament Hill, Monday, November 4, 2013. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

OTTAWA – The Senate prepared Tuesday to vote on the fate of three members who face possible suspension without pay. But there were indications that at least one of the trio was drawing sympathy and second thoughts from some of his former Conservative colleagues.

While Conservatives in the Senate believed they ultimately had the numbers to approve suspending the trio, the political headaches nonetheless were expected to continue for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

On Tuesday morning, an RCMP letter released to reporters in Ottawa showed that the force’s sensitive investigations unit wants emails allegedly showing how the Prime Minister’s Office orchestrated the public statements Senator Mike Duffy was to make about the repayment of his expenses.

Duffy alleged that officials in Harper’s office told him to say that he took out a loan from RBC to cover the a repayment of $90,000 for his housing claims. It was one of many politically explosive allegations Duffy made in the Senate in the last two weeks.

“The existence of such documentation may potentially be evidence of criminal wrongdoing by others,” says the RCMP letter, sent November 1 from Biage Carrese, the officer in charge of the unit.

“My investigators are interesting in gathering all evidence respecting this matter in order to conduct a thorough investigation.”
  RCMP letter re: PMO emails

Duffy is currently being investigated by the RCMP over allegations of breach of trust and frauds on the government. Senators Patrick Brazeau and former senator Mac Harb are facing similar allegations. Senator Pamela Wallin is being investigated for breach of trust and fraud.

None of the allegations has been tested in court and no charges have been laid.

Doubts about how the Senate itself would deal with Brazeau emerged Monday night where the embattled senator made an emotional speech to the upper chamber, peppered with anger over comments made by his colleagues about his actions. He also had a message for his children, his voice cracking as he told them, “I am not guilty of what some of these people are accusing me of.”

“It is very important that you know that I am not a thief, a scammer, a drunken Indian, a drug addict, a failed experiment or a human tragedy,” Brazeau said, taking a shot at comments former government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton made to Global News.

“Your father is a man who took things at face value, who maybe didn’t question things enough.  I never deliberately sought to take anything that did not belong to me.  I was trying to follow the rules but, somewhere along the way, something went wrong and I’m here for it now, and I don’t understand why.”

Brazeau and other senators referred to an outside audit of his housing expenses that determined Senate spending rules were unclear. While auditors concluded they couldn’t determine if Brazeau broke spending rules, a committee of his peers, reviewing the audit, felt otherwise and ordered Brazeau to repay $49,000 in housing claims.

“In politics, as I have learned in grand fashion in the most publicly humiliating way possible, if someone can accuse you of going against the spirit of the law for their own political purposes, they will.  Hence the need for sound, firm, precise and clearly articulated definitions.  Were you in my position, you would feel the same,” Brazeau told the Senate late Monday.

The speech also came on a night when a former party president, Senator Don Plett, said he wouldn’t vote for the motion to suspend Brazeau. Brazeau, Wallin and Duffy could be suspended without pay, but allowed to keep their titles and their health and dental benefits. The suspensions, if approved, would last until the end of the parliamentary session, likely 2015, or earlier if the Senate decided to lift the sanctions.

The trio were to learn their fates starting at 5:30 p.m. ET when the Senate was to reconvene for a final act in a political drama that senators have called unprecedented both for the sanctions being considered, the emotional debate, and the public scrutiny for the red chamber.

“I said to one senator ‘I’ve never seen anything like this in the Senate,’ ” Liberal Senator Jim Munson told reporters outside the Senate chamber in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. “I’m not here today to pass judgement on any of these senators, but I just feel pretty tied up about this whole issue. What we’ve seen here is a trial, a very public trial, and in some ways it hurts to watch this happening this way.”

After the government moved to limit further debate on the motion to suspend the senators without pay, the Senate sat until after midnight Tuesday to finish the required six hours of debate, a raucous sitting that included as close to a yelling match as could be imagined between Conservative senators Hugh Segal – who opposes the sanctions as envisioned – and Senator Pierre Claude Nolin.

The debate has come down to two arguments: Those in favour of the sanctions say the Senate must act to punish three senators found by a committee of their peers to have run afoul of spending rules. Those against argue the trio should have a chance to defend themselves against accusations of “gross negligence” with their expenses, as the motion lays out.

“I would go a step further and say not only are we setting a precedent that we can expel parliamentarians who are unpopular, we are also setting a precedent that the Senate can ignore the right to due process and the presumption of innocence at our convenience,” Plett told the chamber, affirming his distaste for the motions as written.

“If the individual has been convicted or indicted, then and only then would it be appropriate to impose serious sanctions, which in this case may well be expulsion. For this reason, I cannot vote in favour.”

The vote was expected to be split into three parts, giving each senator a chance to vote individually on the fates of Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin.

Conservative Senator Daniel Lang said he was uneasy about suspending Brazeau for up to two years, suggesting the punishment was too harsh for the spending violations the committee accused him of. Lang said Brazeau “should have known better, but I do not believe his actions warrant the same time sanctions as the other two.”

“His conduct should warrant a suspension without pay for a lesser period of time,” Lang told the Senate. “I’ll be abstaining on the vote as it applies to Senator Brazeau, but on the other two votes, I will support them as proposed.”


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