OTTAWA — Sen. Don Meredith, his name now inexorably linked with his sexual relationship with a teenage girl, declared Tuesday he would resign his Senate seat, short-circuiting what could have been a historic vote to kick him out of the upper chamber.
The Senate had been poised to vote as early as Wednesday on an explosive Senate ethics committee report that found Meredith unfit to serve as a senator and recommended that the upper house take the unprecedented step of expelling him.
Meredith pre-empted that vote Tuesday with a terse, 174-word statement.
“I am acutely aware that the upper chamber is more important than my moral failings,” the statement said.
“After consulting with my family, community leaders and my counsel over the past several weeks, I have decided to move forward with my life with the full support of my wife and my children. I am blessed to have had their unconditional love and support throughout this ordeal.
“It is my hope that my absence from the Senate will allow the senators to focus their good work on behalf of all Canadians.”
The statement did not explicitly refer to resignation, nor did the Senate have immediate confirmation of his departure. However, Meredith’s lawyer, Bill Trudell, confirmed that Meredith had decided to resign.
Had Meredith not agreed to go voluntarily, it’s virtually certain his former colleagues would have voted overwhelmingly to give him the boot.
“All I would say, I guess, is good riddance,” said Conservative Sen. Denise Batters on hearing about Meredith’s resignation.
The Senate has never expelled one of its members and Meredith’s resignation leaves untested the chamber’s legal authority to do so.
The Senate has no explicit power to expel a member. But the ethics committee accepted the legal opinion of the law clerk and parliamentary counsel to the Senate that the Constitution gives the upper house the same privileges enjoyed by the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, which can permanently eject a member.
In his statement, Meredith said expulsion would have “major implications” for the Senate.
“This is a constitutional fight in which I will not engage.”
The ethics committee’s recommendation followed an explosive report from Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard earlier this year.
Ricard concluded that Meredith, a 52-year-old married Pentecostal minister, had failed to uphold the “highest standards of dignity inherent to the position of senator” and acted in a way that could damage the Senate itself.
She said Meredith began a relationship with a girl when she was just 16, which progressed from flirtatious online chats to fondling, sexually explicit live videos and, eventually, to sexual intercourse — once shortly before she turned 18 and twice after.
Ricard also concluded that Meredith had abused his position as a senator to take advantage of the teen, known only as Ms. M.
Meredith acknowledged the affair insisted he did not have intercourse with the girl until after she turned 18.
Until Tuesday, he had rejected near-universal calls for his resignation from fellow senators.
Several senators said the decisive manner in which the Senate dealt with Meredith demonstrates that the chamber, plagued by scandal in recent years, has turned a corner.
“The institution is a mirror image of our society, with all the good and all the bad that comes with it,” said Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, a former Senate speaker who originally referred the Ms. M. case to the ethics officer.
“The key thing is that whenever we have some bad, that we don’t sweep it under the carpet, that we face it head on … We are not proud of a number of things, but we’ve dealt with them, we’ve dealt with them head on and we will continue to have zero tolerance for this type of behaviour.”
The decision to punish Meredith signals “a new future for the Senate,” agreed Conservative Sen. Josee Verner.
However, independent Sen. Marilou McPhedran said she intends to ask the Senate to launch a thorough examination of the lengthy process involved in dealing with an alleged breach of the chamber’s code of ethics.
Ricard’s investigation of the Ms. M. case took almost two years. Separate allegations of workplace harassment and bullying by some of Meredith’s former staffers have been under investigation for more than two years, with no resolution as yet.
“I stll believe that the process itself needs to be improved and we need to take a close look at it,” said McPhedran.
“Not just in relation to this case, but we also should be addressing questions of when there are allegations from inside the Senate as well as from outside the Senate.”
A speedier resolution of the allegations against Meredith might have resulted in his departure before he’d served six years in the Senate, thus depriving him of the right to collect a parliamentary pension. Meredith was named to the Senate by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010.