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.

    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.

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

    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.”

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

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

    "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.