The three embattled former Conservative senators at the centre of the spending scandal were tossed out of the red chamber Tuesday by a vote from their colleagues.
Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau are all suspended without pay for the rest of the parliamentary session, which could last up to two years.
But that sentence is overly harsh for one of them, according to the Yukon’s own senator Dan Lang.
In the minutes before the vote, Lang said he would be pushing for Brazeau to be given a slightly more lenient punishment – something approaching a one year suspension without pay.
“Nobody in the Senate has argued that there shouldn’t be sanctions,” Lang said.
“In the case of Senator Brazeau the circumstances of his position weren’t equivalent to the other two, and subsequently his sanction should be less,” Lang said.
When it came to a vote, Lang and five other Conservative senators abstained from the decision to suspend Brazeau.
Regardless of their punishment, Lang said he was frustrated that the scandal has dragged on this long and tarnished the reputation of the senate.
“It really has brought the Senate into the public focus and has brought, in some cases, disgrace to the chamber.
“As a body, we have the responsibility to discipline our own members and that’s what we’re asking the Senate to do,” he said.
Lang said Canadians need to have a careful and considered conversation about the future of a political body that, while currently flawed, still serves an important purpose.
“The language that’s often used is that we’re supposed to be a sober second thought … a check against the power of the House (of Commons) and a way to slow down that legislation if needed. That’s important,” said Lang.
Even with the suspensions, the three senators will still retain their titles, as well as their health, dental and life insurance.
Throughout the debacle, all three have maintained 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.
“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.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office expressed satisfaction with the suspensions, which followed weeks of emotional, often explosive debate, punctuated by bombshell revelations 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.”
While the question over the disgraced senators’ political lives is settled for now, they are still under investigation by the RCMP. There is also still the unanswered issue of whether Harper was involved with an alleged coverup.
Just hours before the Senate voted to suspend the three, Harper endured another question-period grilling, this time about a leaked letter that shows the RCMP is seeking documents that “may potentially be evidence of criminal wrongdoing” by some in the Prime Minister’s Office.
In particular, investigators are looking for emails related to a “script” Duffy said 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 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 the PMO concocted a false story about him taking out a bank loan.
Senator Lang wouldn’t comment on any of the allegations Duffy has made or the growing concern that the RCMP may be investigating the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Each Senator has their own situation and their own difficulties. His (Duffy’s) issues outside the Chamber, I’m not really involved in so I’m not really in a position to comment one way or the other,” Lang said.
“All I know is that the prime minister is an honourable man, and he’s doing the best he can for Canada.”
Most Liberal senators voted against the suspensions but seven, including Liberal Senate leader James Cowan, abstained – taking the advice of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
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.
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