The day after the impressive ceremony the Speech from the Throne, the Conservative Leader in the Senate, Senator Claude Carignan, announced, unceremoniously, his intention to introduce a motion suspending the three controversial Senators - Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau from the Senate. On top of that he said that they should be suspended without pay for 'using their privileges to abuse their power' and 'gross misconduct'. Sen. Carignan called them 'very severe sanctions'. That's for sure!
First, what options did the government have in the management of the issue? Given the messiness of the Duffy case - with the now infamous $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright and the restrictions on public communications as a result of the ongoing RCMP investigations - the government has by now run out of options. Suspension is seen as the only viable step. The reason is simple. It stopped just being a Senate issue months ago. Now it's an issue for the Harper government.
Second, will it be perceived as fair? Already, talk radio is filled with voices saying that it's not fair. Senator Wallin has gone so far as to threaten legal action if the Senate goes ahead. Many claim that it is trying them without giving them a chance to defend themselves. Almost all institutions have provisions to suspend employees and officials for serious allegations of misconduct - financial or otherwise. The Senators have had months to present evidence in their cases and so far have not been able to dent public opinion running heavily against their expenditures and claims. Sen. Mac Harb proved that resigning took him out of the spotlight. When the other three did not follow him, the spotlight focused even more heavily on them - and by extension - the Prime Minister and the brand of the government was obviously being damaged.
Should Senator Wallin be treated the same as Duffy and Brazeau? In an ideal world, perhaps not. She is repaying $100,000 and has strongly pushed back that she has followed the rules. There certainly appears not to be a 'smoking gun' in her case. Unfortunately for her, though, she is getting lumped into the 'soap opera' elements surrounding Senators Duffy and Brazeau.
Why not suspend them with pay? By banning them from access to their office, staff or resources of the Senate, it would be a huge penalty in and of itself. By cutting off their salaries and benefits, it appears to be over-kill. If they were fired, they would probably receive one year salary and benefits. For really angry Canadians, they'd say 'tough'. But for the middle ground who want to see fairness in process, they would probably be more inclined to support 'suspended with pay'.
So, what should happen in the Senate vote? In my view, once the motion has been tabled, an amendment should be proposed and seconded that would remove ' without pay' from the motion to suspend. [Ideally, the original motion should drop that provision.] In that way, it would be strong action, but not cross the line into unfairness - either in fact or in public perception.
focus to the series of legislative initiatives and announcements previewed in the Throne Speech, he may be able to move the dial back in his government's direction. How Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau handle their attacks on the government will be critical to their ability to pin the government down on the issue. If they get over-heated or over-the-top in their attacks, it would be a gift to the Prime Minister, whose experience and ability to handle such attacks is formidable.
Until next time.....