OTTAWA — The drama playing out on Parliament Hill is a lesson about democracy at work, say two Liberal Island Senators.
© Submitted photo
Senator Catherine Callbeck.
Catherine Callbeck and Elizabeth Hubley are long-time Liberals senators, Callbeck was appointed to the Senate in September 1997 and Hubley in December 2002.
Both women say the current scandal involving Conservative senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, has left a black mark on the Red Chamber, one that may stay with the Senate for many years to come.
“I have never seen anything like this before in the Senate,” said Callbeck. “As you can imagine the mood is intense and very serious. I don’t think senators have experienced this before.
“There is no doubt this whole situation is doing serious damage to the reputation of the Senate.”
Hubley said the debate on a motion introduced by the Senate’s government leader, Claude Carignan, that, if passed, would see the disgraced senators suspended without pay and left with little more than their titles has been long and tedious.
“The feeling on (the Liberal) side is that this is an extremely important issue, a very difficult issue and it does require time to consider it carefully,” said Hubley. “Having said that, we have been working full days. We are working outside our usual Senate hours to try and deal with the three motions that are on Wallin and Brazeau and Duffy.”
She added the issue and the motion are being pushed forward with a sense of urgency by the government side for what she said is the wrong reason.
“We feel a bit rushed in why this has to be done and, of course, I guess there is no secret that they would like this pretty well wrapped up before (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper speaks at the Conservative convention this weekend in Calgary,” said Hubley. “That’s not a good enough reason, but that’s the sense that we get on why there is such a push to come to a resolution on this.”
And, she added, the “so-called ball is not in our court.”
“The Liberals have certainly put their argument forward for due process. That is pretty Canadian, a presumption of innocence and fairness and transparency, and, of course, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Hubley. “There is no movement on the principals of fairness here, for us.”
Both Hubley and Callbeck are in support of the motion by Senate Opposition Leader James Cowan to amend Carignan’s motion that is on the floor. That amendment would allow for the embattled senators’ cases to be sent to a special committee for review.
“My greatest concern right now is that some senators who are lawyers that are in the Senate have told us that suspending these senators might interfere with the ongoing RCMP investigation,” said Callbeck. “It could possibly prevent criminal charges from being laid in the future. We could find ourselves in a double jeopardy situation and the RCMP may not be able to lay charges even if they want to.
“We have to move very carefully and find out if this is correct or not.”
Hubley said it should not be rushed forward in order to meet government’s agenda.
“Regardless of what we feel about the situation that those three senators find themselves in, which is really serious, we still think we can’t rush a judgment here and sort of throw out what values Canada has just to be expedient in this. It has to be done properly,” she added. “If we are going to be taking away a person’s livelihood and ousting them from the senate we better do it in a fair and measured process.”
The issue, said Callbeck, is foremost on the mind of Canadians, as evidenced through the countless emails she receives daily from across the country.
“There are a lot of Canadians following this debate. They are seeing a high level of debate and respect being show one side to the other,” she added. “Really, I think this is democracy at work. The debate is really passionate.
“I guess if there is any silver lining in this thing at all is that it proves the value of the senate as the chamber of sober second thought.”
There is no doubt that the allegations levied against Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau are serious, say the women, but they, like all Canadians, deserve a fair and unbiased hearing. And, they noted, there allegations coming from both sides.
“This is all the more reason why we need that special committee because we need to get to the bottom of things,” said Callbeck. “This process is one whereby people are under oath and it is open to the public and it is on television and Canadians can watch and see.”