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Conservative Senators Just Made A Shocking Move To Allow Themselves To Break The Rules

By rewriting the rules they can force passage of a controversial bill.

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A surprising scene played out in the Canadian Senate Friday. The Speaker, essentially the referee of the Senate, told the government it was breaking the rules, so the government ignored him and wrote its own rules.

Emma Loop

As BuzzFeed Canada previously reported, Liberal Senators had been filibustering what they call a union-busting bill. In response, government Senate Leader Claude Carignan pushed a motion that would give his party the power to force the Liberals to stop talking, killing the filibuster.

But Speaker Leo Housakos, who is also a Conservative, rejected his own party's motion. He ruled it was against the rules and violates "the long-term interests of the Senate to maintain the integrity of its traditions... especially open debate."

The forceful ruling stated the government plan is "not consistent with the basic principles of rule."

Seconds after Housakos delivered his ruling, Carignan announced the government was going to overturn it.

Emma Loop

In an extremely rare move, Carignan challenged the speaker's ruling and had the Conservative majority vote it down.

This opens the door for Conservatives to shut down debate as early as next week.

Liberals had been filibustering Bill C-377, a heavily criticized bill that would force unions and other groups to open up their books to the public.

The Liberals knew they didn't have the votes to kill the bill, so instead they just kept debating it. As long as they kept talking, the bill couldn't come to a vote. The Liberals had vowed to keep this filibuster going all summer if necessary.

The government has powerful tools to push forward on "government business" — important legislation such as budgets. But C-377 falls under "other business" because it is a private member's bill from a Conservative backbench MP.

Carignan wanted to have C-377 declared a government bill so that he could force it to a vote. The problem is that it clearly isn't government business. The government itself introduced it as "other business."

A government motion would have retroactively redefined C-377 as a government bill. This was the motion Speaker Housakos declared was against the rules and undermined the traditions of the Senate.

By overruling Housakos, government senators can now use tools intended for government bills to push forward a private member's bill that many have warned is unconstitutional.

“We have rules," Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan said about overturning the ruling. "If we stop respecting the rules, if we start changing the rules because we can’t win within the rules, then we have chaos.”

Emma Loop

Seven provinces representing more than four-fifths of the population oppose Bill C-377. Groups ranging from medical associations to NHL players have warned they would be unfairly swept up in the scope of the bill.

"Not one province has written in support of this legislation. It invades privacy in an unprecedented way. It's just a bad law," said Cowan.

Carignan defended the move to reporters by saying it's within the rules to challenge a speaker's ruling.

Emma Loop

He also insisted it should be up to him to decide what is and is not government business.

"It's up to the leader of the government to determine what is a government (bill)," he said.

"It's a dangerous precedent to review the discretion of the leader of the government to determine what is a government (bill)."

Speaker Housakos expressed disappointment but said there was nothing he could do about being overruled.

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"I wish they would have supported the ruling," he said. "But it's their choice. We live in a democracy."

Challenging a speaker's ruling is not unprecedented but it is normally not done on such serious matters. Cowan said he can remember a speaker being overturned twice in the 10 years he's been a senator, and both times were for much smaller matters.

By forcing the motion through, Carignan can now call time allocation on debate. This means the bill will likely go to a vote next week.

Despite some Conservative senators opposing C-377, there appears to be a majority willing to pass the bill. The bill was already passed by Conservatives in the House of Commons, so once it is approved by the Senate it will receive royal assent and become law.

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