The Senate may consider alternative punishments for three senators facing suspensions without pay over allegations they made inappropriate expense claims, the leader of the government in the upper chamber says.
Claude Carignan told Radio-Canada's television political program he is open to amendments and wants to hear what members of his caucus think before the Senate debate on motions dealing with the penalties resumes Monday afternoon.
The suspensions, if approved, would be levelled against senators Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, but Carignan hinted in the program broadcast Sunday there could be different sanctions for each of them.
He also suggested there was merit to what Wallin and Brazeau said as they defended themselves in speeches to their colleagues over the past week.
Carignan said he believed Brazeau did not interpret financial administration documents properly, and that in his case there was an "element of good faith."
Carignan said Wallin "made an impassioned plea, a good plea" against the sanctions, but added that Duffy "chose to settle political scores rather than answer to the accusations."
The Conservative caucus will meet behind closed doors on Monday morning to consider possible changes to the sanctions. Carignan said there would have to be a consensus before any new motions are crafted.
All three senators left the Conservative caucus earlier this year.
"These senators have already been found by auditors to have claimed inappropriate expenses. It's the prime minister's view, therefore, that they shouldn't be collecting a public paycheque," Jason MacDonald, communications director for the Prime Minister's Office, said in a statement Sunday.
"The prime minister supports the Senate motion and wants to see them vote on it. The Liberals should stop delaying this and end their support for senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau," MacDonald said.
Liberal Senate leader James Cowan told CBC News on Sunday that he is not defending the three senators.
"They made inappropriate claims to the Senate and they were ordered to pay money back. But I wonder about the timing of this," he told CBC News, adding the government "wasn't interested in May, when the reports came in, in doing anything further."
Brazeau, who now sits as an independent, together with Duffy and Wallin, said in his speech during the suspension debate that the Senate is "where due process goes to die.”
Wallin said the entire process of determining her fate is flawed, the Senate is acting as "judge, jury and executioner" and that "due process is not possible" in the Senate chamber.
"We have ongoing police investigations," Cowan said on Sunday. "We don't want to do anything that would jeopardize those investigations or anything that might result from those investigations by way of charges."
Cowan said he's "astounded" that the decision-making process appears to have narrowed to just the Conservative caucus.
"They're just making this up as they go along," Cowan said in a phone interview from Halifax.
'I've had concerns all the way along, as you know, about process. I recommended to the Senate, I proposed an amendment that would send these motions to a special committee that could deal with it quickly and fairly and we would have a proper process," he said.
"But Senator Carignan has thus far refused," Cowan added.
"Then we had Senator Brazeau saying he had a conversation in the back hall with Senator Carignan the other day and now we hear that maybe it's going to be discussed with the Conservative caucus.
"So are they saying now that due process is the decision of the Conservative caucus? I don't think so. That's not the way to do these things," Cowan said.
This past week's debate has revealed a rift among Harper's caucus with Senator Don Plett and Alberta MP Peter Goldring leading the charge against the motion.
On Thursday, the two Conservatives publicly stated they do not support the motion.
The RCMP is investigating the expense claims of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau, but none of the three has been charged.