As I write, the Canadian Senate is in the middle of a debate over a motion to suspend three of its members without pay. They are Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, all Harper appointees who have since been forced out of the Conservative caucus after embarrassing revelations about questionable residency claims and improper expenses. For months now, the three Senators have been starring in scandal that refuses to die, one that is staining the Conservative brand.
Pamela Wallin, the former star television journalist, questioned the timing of the move to suspend her and the other embattled Senators. “It is also designed to appease the party faithful before the Conservative party at the end of the month,” she said in reference to the Tory policy convention in Calgary October 31 to November 2. She argued that the motion disregards the rule of law and is an abuse of power. “When a government chooses to flaunt due process to go after a perceived enemy, it’s very hard to fight it.”
It’s difficult to feel sorry for these three. The government may be throwing them under the bus, but they are far from innocent victims in this controversy. Duffy was double-billing as he campaigned and raised funds for a number of Conservative candidates during the last election. Duffy was reimbursed for travel expenses by the candidates but then billed the Senate for the same trips claiming he was on Senate business. He now says he was forced to accept a $90,000 gift from a Prime Minister staffer to repay his unjustified expense claims. It’s a drop in the bucket for the Conservatives since it is likely a tiny fraction of the amount he helped raise for the party and individual candidates.
For her part, Wallin has paid back $150,000 to settle questionable claims, but this amount could grow when the final accounting is done. Many have said Wallin was living a jet-set lifestyle on the taxpayers’ tab. Wallin denies this charge and said she welcomes an “open, fair, transparent process.”
Finally, the human train wreck that is Patrick Brazeau denies any wrongdoing anywhere and anytime now or in the future. It may be redundant to observe his role as the ultimate Uncle Tom for his Conservative masters in his role to undermine Aboriginal issues and concerns. His Senate appointment was a reward and recognition of his worth as a useful Native figurehead after his shameful performance as National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. Then problems surfaced, with assault charges, false housing claims and questionable tax returns.
The real question to be asked is whether or not these members of the Senate can be suspended without pay before the final word is in on the charges against them. The question of their guilt or lack of it does not enter the consideration of the motion. Nor does the question of whether or not the suspension without pay is being orchestrated for political purposes have any real validity.
In the end it is the Senate that must decide whether the three Senators should be suspended without pay until the courts decide their fate. This is not a “violation of their constitutional right to the presumption of innocence,” as Wallin claims but an internal matter for the Senate. In any case, recourse to a court of law is not diminished or withheld for the Senators. By the time you read this a decision will have been rendered, but one thing is for sure: this story will be on the front pages for a long while to come.