Brazeau forced to take leave of absence

OTTAWA — Senators have voted to force Sen. Patrick Brazeau, who is facing criminal charges, to take a leave of absence from the upper chamber.

OTTAWA — Senators have voted to force Sen. Patrick Brazeau, who is facing criminal charges, to take a leave of absence from the upper chamber.

The Conservative motion passed Tuesday by senators calls on Brazeau to step aside temporarily in order “to protect the dignity and reputation of the Senate and the public trust and confidence in Parliament.”

Brazeau made a surprise appearance in the chamber just prior to the vote on the motion, which also gives a Senate committee the power to cut off his access to his expense account.

The 38-year-old Brazeau, who is currently free on bail, was charged with assault and sexual assault after he was arrested last week at his home in Gatineau, Que.

His leave of absence would remain in effect until the case is resolved.

If convicted, Brazeau could either be suspended or expelled by the Senate, or he could choose to resign.

Brazeau was charged last week on the very day a Senate committee declared it would be calling in auditors to review his housing expenses and those of two other senators.

And a poll conducted right in the thick of it all suggests Canadians took note of the Senate’s difficult week.

The Canadian Press/Harris-Decima poll found 32 per cent of respondents said they believe the Senate should be abolished. In 2010, 27 per cent of those surveyed in a similar poll said they felt the same way.

About one-third of those who participated in the latest survey say they feel it’s time the Senate became an elected body.

The telephone survey of just over 1,000 people was conducted between Feb. 7-10 and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out 20.

The Conservative government recently referred legislation to the Supreme Court that could see an elected Senate become a reality and also institute term limits.

Senators must retire at the age of 75, but have the option to resign sooner — an option that preserves their pension.

Over the course of the Senate’s 146-year history, some 199 senators have resigned, many for health reasons or to take another job.

Only a handful have taken been forced into a leave of absence after a run-in with the law, like Brazeau.

Liberal Sen. Raymond Lavigne resigned in March 2011, 10 days after he was found guilty of breach of trust and fraud for claiming travel expenses for trips taken by his staff and having his staff do work on his personal farm on taxpayer time.

He was later sentenced to six months in prison and six months under house arrest, a sentence that’s currently under appeal.

Progressive Conservative Sen. Eric Berntson resigned his seat in 2000 after a fraud conviction relating his time as was a provincial legislator in Saskatchewan.

He was sentenced to a year in jail and appealed his conviction all the way to the Supreme Court.

Both men could have faced expulsion from the Senate because of their convictions, but both resigned before that step could be contemplated.

Had they been expelled, they would not have had access to their pensions, while a resignation allows them to keep getting the cheques.

At least eight other senators have resigned because they didn’t show up for two Senate sessions in row, most doing in the very early days of the institution. Breaking that rule gives the Senate the option of declaring a seat vacant.

The most recent senator to be disciplined for poor attendance was Liberal Andrew Thompson, who was suspended in 1998 after it was revealed he showed up for work only 47 times in 14 years. He claimed it was for medical reasons.

Thompson was stripped of his salary and benefits, but resigned.