Government Leader in the Senate Senator Claude Carignan speaks to reporters in the foyer of the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, October 24, 2013. Sean Kilpatrick/ Canadian Press
Conservative senators are discussing a more lenient penalty for three senators facing possible suspension without pay over their expense claims — one that would bar them for a shorter period of time and allow them to keep their benefits, CBC News has learned.
Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau are facing motions put forward by Senate leader Claude Carignan last Tuesday that would strip them of their pay, office use and all benefits until the next session.
The next session won't likely be until near the end of 2015, after the next federal election is expected.
The two-year suspensions are meant to penalize them for inappropriate expense claims. All three have repaid thousands of dollars, although only Wallin did so voluntarily.
Duffy's repayment was in fact a $90,000 gift from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's then top aide, Nigel Wright, and Brazeau has had his wages garnisheed and has not fully reimbursed the approximately $50,000 the Senate says he owes.
Carignan has heard from several Conservatives who are upset by what they consider extremely harsh sanctions even though none of the three senators has been charged with a crime. All three are being investigated by the RCMP.
Senator Don Plett, a former longtime president of the Conservative Party, has declared he will vote against Carignan's motions, saying he's particularly worried about the cut-off of health benefits, considering Duffy is a heart patient and Wallin is a former cancer patient.
Carignan himself seems open to lighter penalties, especially for Brazeau and Wallin. He told Radio-Canada that Brazeau believed he could legitimately charge expenses due to claims he lived out of town because of documents he obtained from Senate administration staff.
"I believe he didn't interpret them properly, but we see there was an element of good faith," Carignan said.
Wallin, Carignan continued, made "an impassioned plea, a good plea" before her Senate colleagues, but he seemed to draw a line at Duffy. Duffy, said Carignan, "chose to settle political scores" in his speech to the Senate last Tuesday.
Carignan said he wants to listen to the Senate caucus and will consult with them Monday about amendments to his motions to suspend the three senators without pay. The Senate caucus meets at 1 p.m. ET.
However, both Harper and Senator Marjory LeBreton, the former government Senate leader, said in interviews on private broadcast stations early Monday that a majority of Conservatives favour the suspension motions as they are, without amendments.
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who is against the motions to suspend, said to reporters as he went into the Conservative caucus meeting Monday, "What Harper says is very important, but our oaths to our majesty to do what's right — that's more important than what a politician says."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, talking with reporters before a meeting with private-sector economists, said he doesn't want to be distracted by answering questions about whether Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau should be suspended.
"I'm actually an advocate of abolition of the Senate." Flaherty said. "I always have been, and I think just in this day in age to have a non-elected legislative body is an anachronism."