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Hill Life & People

Senate committee defeats motion to stop garnishing Duffy’s salary, vote could go before full Senate

By Abbas Rana      

Ind. Sen. John Wallace, who challenged the garnishing of Sen. Mike Duffy's salary, is considering whether to take this matter to the full Red Chamber.

Ind. Sen. Mike Duffy, pictured in this file photo. The Hill Times photograph by Cynthia Münster
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The Senate’s powerful Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration Committee last week defeated Ind. Sen. John Wallace’s motion to reverse the committee’s decision to garnish Ind. Sen. Mike Duffy’s salary to recover $16,955 in overpaid expenses.

However, Sen. Wallace, a member of the Senate Internal Economy Committee and the Independent representing Rothesay, N.B., said he’s considering taking this motion before the 105-member Senate Chamber.

In an interview with The Hill Times, Sen. Wallace said he was not surprised his motion that called on the Senate Internal Economy Committee to rescind the decision to seize Ind. Sen. Duffy’s (Cavendish, P.E.I.) salary to recover ineligible expenses, was defeated on Nov. 3. It went down by a vote of 13-1.

He said he knew what he was up against but wanted to bring a few points on the public record regarding the powers and functioning of the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee. Sen. Wallace said the first point was that the full committee should have made the decision related to garnishing Sen. Duffy’s salary seizure and not just the three-member steering committee consisting of two Conservative and one Liberal Senators.

Also, he said the committee did not follow proper procedure before directing the Senate Administration to garnish Sen. Duffy’s salary.

Sen. Wallace said he’s going to reflect on the possibility of raising this issue before the entire Senate and make a decision in the coming days.

“That whole topic is one that should, at some point in the very near future, be dealt with in the Senate Chamber,” said Sen. Wallace. “What would be the best vehicle to do that? Would it be a repeat of the issues and the circumstances that I brought before Internal [Economy Committee], or perhaps those issues in a broader sense can be brought before Senate Chamber in a different form. I’m reflecting on that.”

In the Senate Internal Economy Committee, there are nine Conservative, four Liberal, and two Independent Senators. But in the Senate overall, Independent Senators now outnumber Conservative and Liberal Senators, separately. With the recent appointment of 21 new Senators, there are now 44 Independent, 40 Conservative and 21 Liberal Senators. Sen. Wallace said with a “different composition and broader audience” in the Red Chamber, his motion may yield a different result, or at least he would be able to make his case before all the members of the Senate.

At issue is the Internal Economy steering committee’s decision to direct the Senate administration to seize $16,955 from Sen. Duffy’s salary to recover in overpaid expense claims. The steering committee gave this order after the Senate’s chief financial officer Pascale Legault informed the Senate Internal Economy Committee that, in her view, $16,955 was overpaid to Sen. Duffy in ineligible expenses between November 2011 and September 2012. The questioned expenses included a $10,000 payment to a personal trainer, $3,142 in travel expenses, a $2,500 payment to a speechwriter, $300 for makeup work, $505 for a mobile data plan for a temporary worker in the office, $500 to a volunteer intern in the office, and $8 for personal photos.

On the direction of the Internal Economy Committee, Ms. Legault briefed all Senate caucus leaders and individual Senators in May about her findings regarding the expenses that Sen. Duffy was reimbursed for. In early June, Nicole Proulx, the clerk of the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee, sent out a letter to Sen. Duffy demanding that $16,955 be paid back or that he provide more documentation to justify his expense claims or that he take his case to the Senate arbitration process overseen by former Supreme Court judge Ian Binnie.

In response, Sen. Duffy’s lawyer Donald Bayne wrote a 15-page letter describing the Senate’s actions “a collateral attack” on Ontario Judge Charles Vaillancourt’s 308-page ruling on April 21 that exonerated his client on all 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery. Mr. Bayne argued that all seven questioned expenses pointed out by the Senate administration were examined by the judge in detail and determined that those expenses were appropriate based on the Senate rules in place at the time.

“The details and significance of Justice Vaillancourt’s decision, the prejudicial inequality of the treatment being accorded to Sen. Duffy and the severity of the unjust suspension and remuneration denial should lead all right-thinking Senators, and Canadians, to the conclusion that this post-judgment, post-penalty attempt to pursue the same expense matters is a further compounding of injustice upon injustice, and should be stopped,” said Mr. Bayne in his response.

After Sen. Duffy’s decision not to provide any more documentation and refusal to take his case to Mr. Binnie, the Senate now has started to seize 20 per cent of the net portion of the Senator’s salary until the full $16,955 are recovered.

Sen. Wallace first raised this issue in the Oct. 6 meeting of the Internal Economy Committee and expressed his dissatisfaction with the process that was followed. He also questioned the steering committee’s authority to order the seizure of Sen. Duffy’s salary.

To explain the process to Sen. Wallace, Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos (Wellington, Que.), chairman of the Internal Economy Committee, directed the Senate clerk to provide more information and documentation the steering committee used to reach the decision regarding the salary seizure.

Still, Sen. Wallace was still not satisfied and wrote an eight-page letter to the Senate leadership on Oct. 26, asking that the Internal Economy Committee “step up and do the right thing.” He called on the committee to “immediately revoke and rescind the decision” to garnish Sen. Duffy’s salary and return the already-seized money.

Conservative Sen. David Wells (Newfoundland and Labrador), who’s a member of the Senate Internal Economy Committee’s steering committee, said it’s Sen. Wallace’s right to take this issue to the Senate Chamber. He opposed and voted against Sen. Wallace’s motion in the committee and said he would do the same in the Red Chamber.

“If Sen. Wallace wants to bring a motion to the Senate floor, we would welcome that and we would have all Senators make a decision on how they see his motion,” said Sen. Wells.

“Any Senator can bring a motion to the floor if they think they have a cause to do so. If they can make the case, and if in this case, if Sen. Duffy wants to make the case for the motion and his expenses, then we’d welcome that motion and we’d welcome further that debate.”

Sen. Wells declined to predict how the 105-member Chamber would vote on such a motion.

“I would never presuppose how my colleagues in the Senate might vote,” Sen. Wells said.

Sen. Housakos in an email said he has no objection if Sen. Wallace wants to take this issue before all the members of the Upper Chamber.

“If Sen. Wallace is dissatisfied with the unanimous decision of his colleagues this morning, Internal Economy encourages him to take the matter to the Senate,” wrote Sen. Housakos in an email The Hill Times on Nov. 3.


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