Leo Housakos acting Senate Speaker after Pierre Claude Nolin's death

Even in his dying days, Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin continued to work — discussing how to improve security on Parliament Hill and making sure the Senate, which has been marred by scandal, became more accountable and transparent.

Number of vacancies in the Senate has now climbed to 20

Senator Leo Housakos will be the acting Senate Speaker following the death of Pierre Claude Nolin, who died after battling a rare form of cancer. (Canadian Press)

Senator Leo Housakos, who filled in as Senate Speaker as the man appointed to do the job battled a rare form of cancer, will continue in the role until a new person is appointed.

Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin died Thursday at the age of 64. His colleagues say even in his dying days, Nolin continued to work  — discussing how to improve security on Parliament Hill and making sure the Senate, which has been marred by scandal, became more accountable and transparent.

"I carried the baton for him, but be rest assured he was cognizant up until the last few days. Through him and his staff we executed his wishes," Housakos said.

"Even in his weakest moment yesterday afternoon, his main concern was were we carrying forward in doing what we needed to do. That's just indicative of his commitment to the institution — and touching."

Our colleagues will come together and show solidarity behind the principles that Mr. Nolin put forward.- Senator Leo Housakos

Housakos said he appreciated Nolin's vision for the Senate and the need for senators to hold themselves to a "high account." He added that he believes the Senate "has been very rigid when it comes to making sure rules are followed."

"We reviewed a number of senators, which were suspended not too long ago. You can't be any more rigid than that," Housakos said. "I think in the weeks and months and years ahead, we will continue to be cognizant that we are accountable to the people of this country."

Nolin was appointed to the role of Speaker at the end of 2014, after 21 years as a senator. As speaker pro tempore, Housakos has performed the Speaker's duties in the upper chamber since Nolin's health grew worse in mid-March.
Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin was appointed to the upper chamber in 1993. He died Friday morning. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Prime Minister's Office said Housakos will continue to act as Speaker pro tempore until a new Speaker is named. The Senate is scheduled to sit until the end of June.

Housakos was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in December 2008.

"All I know is that our colleagues will come together and show solidarity behind the principles that Mr. Nolin put forward," Housakos said.

"We will continue to work, to carry on his wish."

Late Friday, Nolin's funeral arrangements were announced:

  • He will lie in repose in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill on Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Members of the public are invited to pay their respects as of noon Tuesday.
  • A book of condolence will be available in the Senate Foyer from Tuesday through Thursday.
  • Nolin's funeral will be held on Thursday in Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica at 2:00 p.m.

Pierre Claude Nolin served with distinction in the Senate, defending the interests of Quebeckers and the Canadian Armed Forces, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday. 1:02

Conservative majority in Senate

Nolin's death brings the number of vacancies in the Senate up to 20 as a federal election approaches.

The Conservatives have a comfortable majority in the Senate, with 51 seats. There are 29 Liberals in the Senate and five independents.

No new senators have been appointed in more than two years — and the prime minister is facing a lawsuit in Federal Court over the empty seats.

The suspension of Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin amid expense scandals leaves three more empty seats. One vacancy was caused when former senator Mac Harb stepped down amid his own expense scandal.​ 

Brazeau and Harb face criminal charges, while Duffy is in the midst of a high-profile trial in Ottawa.

The federal auditor general is in the process of reviewing all senators' expenses, poring over claims related mostly to travel and housing.

Harper has indicated he does not intend to name unelected senators as he pushes for reform, but his government's plans to make significant changes to the Senate were derailed last year when the Supreme Court ruled the federal government does not have the power to do so without the support of the provinces.

Lawyer Aniz Alani argued his case in Federal Court in Vancouver on Thursday in an effort to push the issue, pointing out that Section 32 of the Constitution Act gives the Governor General the legal power to appoint senators.

Still, a prime minister, by convention, chooses senators while a governor general approves the appointments.

The federal government's lawyer argued that the court has no jurisdiction in the political appointment of senators. A decision has not yet been made in the case.

The leader of the government in the House of Commons honoured the Senate Speaker, who died today. 1:42