OTTAWA — Senate Speaker Leo Housakos is the source of several leaks of the auditor general’s report, according to two individuals who told The Huffington Post Canada that they witnessed several incidents.
Housakos, a Conservative senator who is expected to be replaced imminently as Senate Speaker by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, leaked the documents last June to several reporters the week before the audit was tabled in the Senate, said the two sources, who requested anonymity due to fear of reprisals that will impact their careers.
“[Housakos] has, and continues to have, an agenda,” a former bureaucrat who worked for the Senate told HuffPost this week. “We battled on a number of occasions: when I was asked to observe the leaking of parliamentary privileged documents; when I was asked to behave in an unprofessional manner with the media; when I was asked to break the Official Languages Act; when I was asked to perform my work in a partisan fashion, i.e. Conservative partisan fashion.”
The source continued: “I stood up to him and refused to do things that would discredit my very hard fought reputation and my professional standards in my business and the law.”
Senate Speaker Leo Housakos speaks with the media in the Foyer of the Senate. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
After clashing with the Speaker several times, she was let go in September when her contract came up for renewal. An all-party group of senators hired a failed Tory candidate who also worked in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s office to fill her non-partisan job.
Housakos now controls the Senate’s communications, she said. While the bureaucrat has moved on, she said she’s speaking not out of spite but out of a deep concern for what is happening to the Senate and to the administrative staff’s non-partisan nature.
“What is happening is wrong…. He has done a lot of damage,” she said.
“He has manoeuvred in such a way that the Conservatives’ ideology and approach to communications is secure in the communications directorate.”
Senate communications overhaul
Last year, the Senate began a review of its communications shop. Several senators felt the upper chamber’s reputation had been soiled because of bad communications — some of which were directed by the senators themselves.
Although the review was completed and recommendations made, several staff members recently underwent another assessment. All contract workers were let go and most permanent employees were asked to compete for new positions.
Housakos’ assistant, Jacqui Delaney, a Conservative staffer on loan to the Speaker’s office, did not return calls for comment.
Another staffer reported witnessing Housakos leaking the auditor general documents to members of the media in the Speaker’s office. The person placed Delaney at Housakos’ side when the Speaker released the information to several well-known journalists.
Former Liberal leader Stephane Dion arrives for a news conference with Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette in 2008. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
The auditor general’s audit into senators’ expenses last spring pointed the finger at 30 current and former members of the chamber — some for minor spending incidents but others for large and relatively unexplained expenses. Nine cases were referred to the RCMP.
The leaks, which began on June 4, caused several senators — who were unsure how to defend themselves without having seen the full final audit — a great deal of embarrassment during the course of several days.
On June 9, the day the audit was tabled, Liberal Sen. Céline Hervieux-Payette stood up in the chamber on a question of privilege — something she said she had never done in her 20 years in the Senate.
The audit was not supposed to be made public until that afternoon at 2:05 p.m., and yet “a number of leaks” with “confidential information under embargo” hit the headlines in newspapers, online media and television newscasts, Hervieux-Payette said. She called it a “historically grave” breach.
”These leaks violate all senators' fundamental right to the presumption of innocence and due process.”
“These revelations have been growing over the past six days and include many details, such as the names of the senators allegedly involved, the sums of money allegedly challenged by the auditor general and the list of senators whose files will reportedly be referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“These leaks violate all senators' fundamental right to the presumption of innocence and due process. Furthermore, the leaks are causing unprecedented harm to our venerable institution, preventing it from functioning properly and undermining its credibility,” she said.
Some senators, she said, “felt trapped and forced into silence by the obligation to refrain from commenting on the auditor general's report until it was made public, even though their names had already been fed to the media and those who would cry wolf.”
For the Senate to turn things around, she added, it was imperative to find out who was responsible for the leaks. “I feel that, at the very least, this constitutes an obstruction to the work of a parliamentarian, if not contempt of Parliament.”
Leader of the Government in the Senate Senator Claude Carignan speaks about the auditor general report at a June news conference. (Photo: Matthew Usherwood/The Canadian Press)
Claude Carignan, the Conservative Leader in the Senate, described himself as one of the first “victims” of the unauthorized disclosure. He, Housakos and Senate Liberal Leader James Cowan were mentioned in the first leaks, he said.
“[It] caused me a great deal of embarrassment,” Carignan said. “Do you believe that we can identify the direct source of the leak of these elements of the report?” he asked her.
Hervieux-Payette said she believed the leak could be identified because of the “small number of people” who had received the report the previous Thursday.
Housakos, sitting in the Speaker’s chair, ruled that a “prima facie case” of privilege had been established, and senators agreed to refer the investigation to the committee on Rules, Procedures and Rights of Parliament for an independent inquiry and a report to be publicly released without delay.
Although the rules committee met twice to discuss the leaks of the report, it didn’t receive evidence or make a conclusion before suspending activities for the summer. Its chair, Conservative Sen. Vern White, told The Huffington Post Canada on Tuesday that his committee had asked the Auditor General’s Office for a list of who received the information, and when.
“If there is a leak, we need to get to the bottom of it.”
Judging by the types of questions asked during the meeting, it appears several senators thought the AG’s office was the source of the leak.
With the new Parliament, the Senate committee cannot resume its study until a new motion to investigate the source of the leak is introduced. White said he hopes the source of the leak will be identified.
“I don’t care who did the leak — we’re talking about some serious stuff," he said. "If there is a leak, we need to get to the bottom of it.”
Senators still “in limbo”
Hervieux-Payette told HuffPost that when the Senate resumes its sitting, likely on Monday, she intends to reintroduce her motion. “It is a matter of great importance to me.”
A number of senators are still “in limbo” with the auditor general’s expense claims hanging over their heads, she said. (Hervieux-Payette is not named in the AG report.)
She said she had heard a rumour that Housakos was the source of the leak. She described him as “voluble” and said he consistently sought the media’s attention.
For now, she said, the Senate Liberals are not sure exactly how to operate. Committee memberships haven’t been struck and it’s unclear who will guide the government’s agenda in the upper house without a Senate leader.
“It’s the great darkness right now,” she said.
Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc told HuffPost on Monday that answers on the Senate would be coming in the days ahead.
Regardless of whether the Liberals appoint a new Speaker, Independent Sen. Anne Cools told HuffPost that she hopes the Senate continues to investigate the source of the leak.
“Senators are no less interested now than they were several months ago.”
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