OTTAWA -- One of three former Conservative senators facing suspension without pay is warning all parliamentarians the same thing could happen to them.
Patrick Brazeau made a last-minute appeal to fellow MPs and senators Monday as the government moved to shut down debate on the proposed suspensions and force a vote today.
"Colleagues, if this can happen to me, it can happen to you, " Brazeau wrote in a letter to parliamentarians.
Brazeau reiterated external auditors found he met all four criteria for claiming a housing allowance for a secondary home in Ottawa. They concluded Senate policy on the allowance was too vague to determine if anyone had claimed it inappropriately.
Yet, the Senate's internal economy committee nevertheless decided he'd made improper claims and demanded repayment, eventually triggering the government's bid to suspend Brazeau, as well as senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin, without pay.
"I recommend you have a lawyer examine all claims you submit before you submit them," Brazeau advised his colleagues. "You may currently believe you are being compliant with (House of Commons) or Senate policy. The rules may change without your knowledge and you may find yourself kicked out of your caucus, being suspended without pay and being scapegoated in the media as some kind of entitled fat cat.
"This can happen in spite of the fact that you are completely compliant with a given policy. This can happen even though you never submit per diems for lunch and brown bag it every day. Your compliance is irrelevant if internal economy says that it is, as they are above the law."
Brazeau's appeal came as the rift in Conservative ranks deepened over the proposed suspensions -- although not enough to defeat a motion to cut off debate.
The closure motion passed by a vote of 51-34, with Conservative senators John Wallace, Nancy Ruth and Hugh Segal voting against and two more Tory senators, Don Plett of Manitoba and Don Meredith, abstaining. Wallin, the only one of the three accused senators in the chamber, also abstained.
Wallace earlier denounced the plan to suspend Brazeau, Wallin and Duffy -- without pay, privileges or Senate resources but continuing their life, dental and health insurance plans -- for the duration of the parliamentary session, which could last for two years.
He spoke out against the government's bid to impose the same penalty on all three for allegedly claiming improper living and travel expenses, regardless of the different facts and circumstances surrounding each case.
"We must... be satisfied that all of the sanctions imposed for each of the three senators, including the duration of the proposed suspensions are, in the circumstances, fair, reasonable, balanced and proportionate to what has been alleged against each of them," Wallace told the upper house.
Noting the suspensions would deprive the trio of their livelihoods and could irreparably damage their reputations and ability to find other jobs, Wallace also denounced the government's bid to limit debate on such a serious move.
"We absolutely cannot take any shortcuts to achieving a fair and just result for those who stand accused."
Segal said the proposed suspensions are without precedent and shouldn't be rushed into without ensuring a fair, impartial hearing for the accused and an assessment of all the facts.
"We in this chamber must not be about any rush to judgment or the trashing of reputations or, worse, interference in independent police investigations," he said, referring to the RCMP probe into the three senators.
Liberals in the House of Commons said they will use an opposition day today to debate a motion instructing the ethics committee to hold televised hearings into the conduct of the Prime Minister's Office in the payment of Duffy's disallowed expense claims, including calling Prime Minister Stephen Harper to testify under oath.
Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, personally gave Duffy $90,000 to repay his expenses. Harper claims Wright acted alone and that he knew nothing about the transaction, although as many as a dozen other PMO staffers and top party officials did know about it.
Duffy has alleged Wright, under instruction from Harper, orchestrated a "monstrous" conspiracy to cover up the transaction.
-- The Canadian Press