Leo Housakos says measures to pass Bill C-377 through Senate within rules

In an interview airing Tuesday on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Senate Speaker Leo Housakos says Conservatives in the Senate were within the rules when they took "draconian steps" to move along a controversial labour bill that passed today before the summer break.

'Draconian steps' used to move along anti-union bill by Conservative senators, Speaker says

'Is democracy always efficient? No. Is it at times messy? Absolutely,' says Senate Speaker Leo Housakos. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Senate Speaker Leo Housakos says the Conservatives in the Senate were within the rules when they took "draconian steps" to move along a controversial labour bill that passed today before the summer break.

Conservative senators used their majority to overrule Housakos, after he saw fit last week to rule against a Tory motion to cut off debate and force a final vote on a private member's bill that will require unions and labour organizations to publicly disclose the details of their spending.

In an interview airing Tuesday on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Housakos said, "The government obviously took draconian steps, in my humble opinion, in order to make sure that the legislation passes, because at the end of the day they believe once the debate is over there has to be a decision taken.

"So that's part of democracy. Is democracy always efficient? No. Is it at times messy? Absolutely," Housakos told CBC's Rosemary Barton.

Asked if he felt undermined by his own party, Housakos said, "No. They did what was certainly within the rules. I thought they should have respected what I thought was a good ruling — but again that's democracy."

Senate Opposition leader James Cowan said it was "extraordinary" to see the Conservatives overrule their own Speaker. "That, I think, is, if not unprecedented, highly unusual," he said.

Housakos said Conservative senators overruled him after the opposition in the Senate filibustered the bill, but that Bill C-377 was given due process.

"This bill has been debated much more thoroughly in the Senate of Canada than it was debated in the House of Commons," Housakos said.

Seven provinces have deemed the bill unconstitutional, while the federal privacy commissioner has raised concerns about the scope of the legislation.

Abolishing the Senate 'irresponsible'

Housakos defended the Senate, amid persistent calls from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair to abolish it.

"​I hope that the leader of the Official Opposition starts becoming a little bit more responsible in his attempts to challenge recognized constitutional institutions in our country."

"Calling for the abolition of an institution like the Senate of Canada … is somewhat irresponsible."

"The Senate of Canada has done outstanding work and most senators are very diligent, thorough, and rigorous in their work," Housakos said.

Housakos and Cowan were among 21 senators named by the auditor general as having to repay ineligible Senate expenses. Housakos initially said he would contest part of the findings, but later changed his mind. Both senators have since reimbursed the full amount of their contested expense claims.

"The interests of the institution were more important than my personal interests," Housakos said on Power & Politics.

Nine former and current senators are the subject of an RCMP investigation. 

Senator Don Meredith was suspended from the Conservative caucus earlier this after facing allegations of harassment and bullying in his office, as well as allegations of an improper sexual relationship with a teenage girl that ended earlier this year.

Housakos said he hopes to receive a report from the outside firm investigating allegations of staff harassment in Meredith's office soon.

"There are some difficulties, we recognize them, and the best way to gain credibility is to deal with your problems rather than sweep them under the rug, so we're dealing with them," Housakos said.


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