OTTAWA — A Manitoba senator may be booted from her caucus over what she describes as an attempt to silence voices that want to reform the Red Chamber.
"It's looking alarmingly like a kangaroo court right now," Sen. Marilou McPhedran told the Free Press.
As first reported by the Globe and Mail, the Independent Senators Group is undertaking a procedure to have a closed-door vote Oct. 18 on whether to remove McPhedran from the group, which is the largest bloc in the Red Chamber.
The Globe reported the issue surrounds McPhedran emailing all senators last month with concerns about Sen. Sarabjit Marwah doing consulting work for the federal finance department. She had suggested Marwah may have breached ethics rules — to which he explained he had cleared this with the ombudsman and law clerk in advance, and only received $1 in nominal compensation.
McPhedran apologized to Marwah and her colleagues for raising the issue. She claims she’s being cast out due to years of riling up her colleagues over what she deems to be inadequate policies to prevent harassment and abuse of expenses.
"As much as this appears to be a complaint from one of the richest, most powerful, male senators — and clearly it is that — it's also about my strong position about the use of confidentiality (and non-disclosure) agreements in harassment procedures."
McPhedran said there is a lack of transparency from the Independent Senators Group leadership, who would not provide anyone for an interview Wednesday. The group is committed to reforming the Senate and rebuilding the institution’s public image, but McPhedran argues it’s falling short on both fronts.
She questioned why the caucus was moving to expel her instead of temporarily suspending her, as the group’s charter allows for either move when a senator breaches principles such as maintaining "decorous and respectful behaviour."
The group refused to explain its rationale or to comment on her request to have the hearing held in public.
McPhedran also accused the group’s leader, Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, of a conflict by being the person to launch the vote process and also the main person providing evidence in support of booting her.
Woo was unavailable for an interview Wednesday, but his staff provided a statement saying he’s simply following the charter all caucus members signed onto.
"When a question of expulsion arises, the charter provides for hearings to give an opportunity to examine the case, so all our colleagues can make up their own minds," reads the statement attributed to Woo.
McPhedran was unsure how she’d proceed if she actually was removed. Senators can opt to remain unaffiliated with any caucus, but get less resources and a marginal voice in committee studies of legislation.
"I haven't given it much thought, because you're talking an old, feminist war-horse here and I'm deep in the battle right now," McPhedran said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made all his Senate appointments non-partisan, breaching with decades of senators being members of parties whose votes could be dictated by the party leadership. The Red Chamber is still sorting out how to fulfill its mandate to represent regions and minorities outside of a party system.
"I think hard about the implications of being an independent senator for Manitoba," said McPhedran, whom Trudeau appointed in October 2016.