OTTAWA—Conservative senators have taken the unusual step of using their majority to overrule their own Speaker in order to push a controversial bill on the financial transparency of unions through to a final vote.
Senate Speaker Leo Housakos — who Prime Minister Stephen Harper named to the role last month — tried to prevent a motion Friday that would end the debate and force a vote on private member’s Bill C-377, arguing it went against the fundamental principles of how the upper chamber handles private member’s business.
The bill introduced by B.C. Conservative MP Russ Hiebert would require labour organizations to open their books and reveal how much money they are devoting to political activities, among other things.
Conservative Senate Leader Claude Carignan appealed the ruling — something that can and has been done, albeit rarely, but is forbidden in the House of Commons — and overturned his ruling with a vote of 32 to 17.
The bill, which seven provinces, including Ontario, have argued is unconstitutional and would interfere with their jurisdiction over labour relations, is now likely to become the law of the land by Tuesday.
“I think that’s the message that Canadians should get, that Mr. Harper makes the rules and if he doesn’t like the rules that are there, he changes them,” Opposition leader James Cowan told reporters Friday.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, argued the bill had received plenty of debate and pointed out that Cowan himself had led a successful appeal of a ruling by former speaker Noël Kinsella on a question of privilege in 2009.
“I’ve asked them to try to come to a fair and amicable conclusion of this disagreement and unfortunately I can’t do more than appeal to reason,” Housakos said in an interview Friday.
“I think it’s fundamentally important the Senate debates all private member’s bills and brings them to a vote before Parliament rises,” Housakos said, adding that he would also rather not have two other private member’s bills — one on transgender rights and another on single-sports betting — “dying on the order paper.”