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Cracks form in drive to oust senators

Tories will seek to limit debate

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OTTAWA -- The Conservative drive to suspend three of its black-sheep senators without pay is sputtering amid an apparent difference of opinion between the prime minister and his Senate leader as Tories in the upper chamber seek to end debate outright on the sanctions.

Sen. Claude Carignan has suggested he's open to amending the measures against Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin, though he has signalled he's less willing to do so for Mike Duffy, following the arguments they made against their proposed suspensions without pay in the Senate last week.

Some Conservative senators, including Hugh Segal and Don Plett, the former president of the party, have complained the hard line against the senators ignores due process and the rule of law, a point Wallin also made in her remarks to the Senate.

It's all evidence of disarray among Conservatives that could create opportunities for those looking to defeat the suspension motions in the days to come.

Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Harper, denied Sunday Carignan, the government's Senate leader, was acting on behalf of the prime minister.

"These senators have already been found by auditors to have claimed inappropriate expenses," MacDonald said in an email.

'All of this is blowing up in their faces and spinning out of control and they want to get it over with before the convention'

-- Sen. James Cowan, the Liberal Senate leader

"We don't direct the activities of the Senate and cannot comment on the discussions they have had or may be having. What I can say is that we remain firm on this important point: Senators who have already been found to have claimed inappropriate expenses should not be collecting a public paycheque."

In an interview broadcast Sunday on Radio-Canada, Carignan said he believes Brazeau did not interpret the Senate's financial regulations properly, but suggested he'd acted in good faith.

Wallin, meantime, "made an impassioned plea, a good plea" against the sanctions, he said, but Duffy "chose to settle political scores rather than answer to the accusations."

Carignan couldn't be reached for comment on Sunday. The Quebec senator himself was at the centre of some of the most explosive allegations when Brazeau accused him of offering a backroom deal on Friday, the end of a week in which the prime minister publicly declared zero tolerance for the senators' purported misdeeds.

The Quebec senator is slated to consult with the Conservative caucus in a closed-door meeting this morning about whether to amend the suspension proposals against any of the three senators.

On Parliament Hill on Friday, Brazeau said Carignan offered him a deal just hours earlier to receive lighter sanctions from the Senate in exchange for a public apology. Brazeau said Carignan pulled him aside outside the Senate chamber to make the offer.

"The deal was, that if I stood in this chamber, apologized to Canadians and took responsibility for my actions, that my punishment would be lesser than what is being proposed," Brazeau told the Senate.

Carignan responded his offer was one made out of "friendship," adding he'd always been open to "friendly amendments."

"It's like every motion, it could be amended," Carignan later told reporters.

"When we realize that if somebody apologized to Canadians, it's something that we could take in account and perhaps change the motion. Or he could also move an amendment to say, 'look, I apologize and I want to reduce the sanction.' He could do that. And it's exactly what I said to him."

Sen. James Cowan, the Liberal Senate leader, said there appears to be a puzzling disconnect between Carignan and the prime minister.

"I would have assumed on something as important as this, there would have been close consultation between the Senate leader's office and the Prime Minister's Office since there is on everything else," Cowan said.

Senate Conservatives are aiming to end debate today on the controversial proposal to suspend the three senators. A motion, to be tabled three days before the Conservative party convention kicks off in Calgary, would impose a time allocation for the debate.

"All of this is blowing up in their faces and spinning out of control and they want to get it over with before the convention," Cowen said of the Conservatives.

All three senators, clearly angered by the government's tactics, descended upon the Senate to make stunning allegations they were victims of conspiracies, personal vendettas and were approached with backroom deals in attempts to lessen the public relations damage to Conservatives.

Duffy said he was threatened with expulsion from the Senate if he didn't go along with the plan to repay his expenses.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 28, 2013 A12

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