The Canadian Senate’s biggest bloc is calling Manitoba Senator Marilou McPhedran before a closed-door hearing next Monday to decide whether to kick her out of the Independent Senators Group.
This is the first expulsion hearing for the Independent Senators, the largest Parliamentary group in Canada’s Red Chamber, since it was recognized by the Senate in December, 2016. Removal from this group would not affect Ms. McPhedran’s seat in the Senate, but would deprive her of extra research and support that comes with belonging to a parliamentary group.
Ms. McPhedran told The Globe and Mail she is being brought before the Oct. 18 hearing after sending an e-mail to all senators in September raising questions about how the chamber’s ethics code was being applied. The e-mail followed media reports in the summer that Ontario senator Sarabjit Marwah did consulting work for the federal Finance department – a contract that did not contravene the ethics rules. She did not name Mr. Marwah, a former Scotiabank executive, in the e-mail.
She said she is asking for the expulsion proceedings to be made public, in part to counter what she called the culture of secrecy in the Senate. “The reasoning and the evidence should be public,” she said.
Yuen Pau Woo, the leader of the ISG, declined to discuss the matter on Tuesday. “We are not going to debate the expulsion through the media,” he said in an interview. “As facilitator, it’s my responsibility to protect the integrity and dignity of the group and to implement the provisions of the ISG charter, which all members have signed on to.”
Mr. Woo said the hearing would be conducted as laid out in the group’s charter, which calls for an in-private proceeding. “These hearings give an opportunity to examine the case so all our colleagues can make up their own minds.”
After the hearing, ISG members will vote on whether to expel the Manitoba senator. The group has 44 senators. Ms. McPhedran said she has asked ISG leaders to allow her colleagues to abstain from voting if they wish.
Mr. Marwah, through his Senate office, declined comment on Tuesday. In September, he responded to Ms. McPhedran’s e-mail to all senators with one of his own, saying “insinuations made by Senator McPhedran ... are baseless” and explaining the Finance consulting contract was pro-bono advice over one month for which he received only $1. He said the contract was pre-cleared by the Senate ethics officer, the Department of Justice and the Senate law clerk and was to help Finance in the early stages of the pandemic to assist Canadian businesses.
He also said the facts he laid out “could have been easily ascertained” by Ms. McPhedran. Nine months earlier, Mr. Marwah had explained the consulting work in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
Ms. McPhedran said in September she responded to Mr. Marwah with another Senate-wide e-mail thanking him for “transparency on the details” and apologized unreservedly. “If I had to do it over again, would I write it differently? I probably would,” she said on Tuesday of the original e-mail. But, she added, she would still have written it because the Senate ethics officer had invited dialogue and questions.
The Manitoba senator said she thinks the hearing was triggered by more than just the September e-mail, including her publicized concerns about shortcomings in the Senate’s recently developed harassment policy.
Ms. McPhedran said she believes the Independent Senators Group has strayed from its roots. It was created after the Liberals changed the selection process for senators, and was intended as an independent working group that ensures equality for all senators and restores public confidence in the Red Chamber. Other blocs have formed since.
“I’ve increasingly come to see that if you belong to a parliamentary group and independence is the core value of that group, but at the same time there is a culture of compliance, that seems to be increasing -- where does that fit with a reform mandate?
“I see a very big difference between the current leadership and my experience when I first joined the ISG.”
The ISG’s charter calls for members to adopt a “collaborative” approach and exhibit “decorous and respectful behaviour, personally and professionally, and work to enhance and improve the Senate and its public confidence.” It says members can be expelled for violating these principles.
Ms. McPhedran said she is worried that the real test next week may not be whether she adheres to ISG charter values but whether she rates highly on a “likeability score.” She added: “I already know I don’t score well on that.”
The senator, appointed in October, 2016, by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said she is one of the ISG members who has more than most spoken against, or voted, against legislation.
She questions the impetus behind the expulsion hearing. “Is this about core values or this about the fact that, as I’ve been called by more than one male senator, that I am a ‘difficult senator?’”
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