Some members of the Red Chamber are so determined to expel Senator Don Meredith that they have tasked the Senate's law clerk with combing through the Constitution in search of a line they can use to force the Toronto-area senator to step aside for good, sources tell CBC News.
The Senate's ethics watchdog last week found that Meredith breached the upper chamber's ethics code by engaging in a relationship with a young woman that started when she was 16 years old. In the Senate, some colleagues have suggested the behaviour demands nothing less than his removal.
The 52-year-old senator could be suspended without pay rather easily — a simple majority vote on a motion would suffice — but that punishment would only last until the end of the parliamentary session and would have to be continually renewed.
Instead, senators are considering something that has never been done before: expelling one of their own. (All of these considerations would be moot if Meredith were to voluntarily retire.)
Meredith, who was appointed as a Conservative senator by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010 before becoming a member of the Independent Senators Group (ISG), denies many of the allegations levelled against him by the woman in question — who is identified as "Ms. M" in the report prepared by ethics officer Lyse Ricard — but concedes he had sexual intercourse with her on at least one occasion.
Ricard found reason to believe Meredith and Ms. M had intercourse three times, including once when the woman was 17 years old. Meredith denies the allegation.
Section 18 of the Constitution
At first glance, the Constitution Act, 1867, seems to enumerate only five areas as to when a senator can be permanently disqualified: an absence for more than two consecutive sessions; allegiance or adherence to a foreign power; bankruptcy; treason or conviction of a felony, or if a senator does not meet property qualifications.
But the law clerk is pointing to section 18 as one possible avenue, according to sources who asked for anonymity given the sensitive nature of the file. The section confers on members of the Senate the "privileges, immunities or powers ... enjoyed, and exercised by the Commons House of Parliament in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland."
British MPs are able to deliver the ultimate sanction, and remove a member from the House with a simple majority vote on a motion. (The power is used rarely, and there are only three examples in the post-Second World War era.)
Section 18, drafted by the Fathers of Confederation, has been read by some senators to mean that a Canadian parliamentarian can have no fewer powers than a British MP, including the same right to expel.
The calls for Meredith to resign have been growing since the Senate's ethics watchdog found that Meredith breached two sections of the code of ethics, namely that the Toronto-area senator and pastor did not uphold the highest standards of dignity inherent to his position, and that his actions reflect adversely on the institution of the Senate.
Peter Harder, the government's representative in the Senate, said he has written to Meredith to ask him to resign. Harder said last Friday it was not immediately clear if the chamber had the ability to expel Meredith outright, but, according to his reading of the rules, it is a possibility.
Senator Elaine McCoy, the convener of the ISG, said Meredith will be removed from all Senate committees — he sits on the veterans affairs subcommittee — and her "personal advice" to the senator is to resign. McCoy said she spoke to Meredith Friday morning and he accepted the decision to boot him from the caucus.
Several requests for comment have gone unanswered by Meredith's office.
Meredith to keep pension
Meredith will collect his Senate pension regardless of actions the upper chamber takes to admonish him.
Any parliamentarian who has served six years, either in the House of Commons or the Senate, is eligible to collect a pension. Meredith reached that magic number only a few months ago, in December 2016, six years after his appointment by former prime minister Stephen Harper.
If Meredith were to resign tomorrow, he would collect approximately $24,000 annually starting at age 60, according to calculations provided by the Senate.
If Meredith is suspended from the chamber for the rest of the parliamentary session — which ends either with a prorogation or an election — that time will not account towards his years of pensionable service.