Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No mercy for ex-Tory senators: local MPs

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Despite reservations expressed by one top Tory, Manitoba's two federal cabinet ministers say they support a Conservative motion to suspend three senators embroiled in an expense scandal.

"It think for most Canadians, certainly for most Manitobans, if you work in a job and you're caught stealing money from your employer, you'd be, first and foremost, immediately fired, and fired without pay," said Candice Bergen, minister of state for social development.

"My logical conclusion, then, is that if a senator is caught claiming expenses that he or she didn't incur, they shouldn't be working and getting a paycheque."

A Conservative motion debated all week in the upper chamber could effectively expel the three ex-Conservative senators -- Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau.

The motion is expected to be voted on next week and would suspend the three without pay and benefits.

Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, the regional minister for Manitoba, said she is not convinced the senators facing suspension haven't had ample time and opportunity to make their case.

"This story has been evolving for months and months and months and months, so I have a bit of a hard time, actually, agreeing with anyone who says they didn't have an opportunity to submit documents," said Glover.

Bergen and Glover spoke Friday at a news conference meant to tout the benefits of the new trade deal with the European Union, a deal the federal Conservatives have pumped up all week, hoping to deflect attention away from the Senate expenses scandal engrossing Ottawa.

In an unusual move this week, Manitoba Sen. Don Plett broke ranks and told the Senate he has serious reservations about the Conservative motion. He urged senators to set aside political expediency and ensure the three senators are afforded due process and an opportunity to present a proper, public defence.

Plett said suspending the senators would be like finding them guilty before they are charged, an affront to the rule of law.

Also weighing in Friday was Liberal Sen. Maria Chaput, who called the Conservative motion a "bad, bad move."

Chaput supports a related Liberal proposal that would see the matter referred to a standing committee so the three senators could answer questions and present evidence.

"Let's not forget we're in Canada and those senators have a right to be heard and to be treated fairly," said Chaput.

Manitoba's other two Conservative senators -- JoAnne Buth and Janice Johnson -- could not be reached for comment Friday.

Neither has spoken yet on the suspension motion in the Senate chamber.

Manitoba has two outstanding Senate vacancies following the mandatory retirement of Conservative Terry Stratton earlier this year and the resignation of Liberal Rod Zimmer for health reasons in August.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2013 A22

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