Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

The Senate of Canada building and Senate Chamber are pictured in Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2019.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A pungent and revolting smell, which the Conservative leader in the Senate declared reminded him of his time as a plumber, drove senators to abandon debates for the day on Tuesday.

Senators were finding the odour so distracting, with some getting headaches, they had to abandon their debate of government bills and vacate the chamber after only an hour and a half. Several senate committees, including the agriculture committee, also cancelled scheduled evening meetings as the stench permeated the building.

Alison Korn, spokeswoman for the standing committee on internal economy, budgets and administration, said Public Works and Procurement Canada explained that the “sulphur smell was caused by the opening of the nearby Rideau Locks, which caused stagnant water to circulate.”

“The air quality is being monitored,” she said on Tuesday evening. “A complete air change will be done in the building before it is occupied tomorrow.”

The Conservative leader in the Senate, Don Plett, broached the subject of the smell – which other senators were hesitant to mention – after an hour and a half of debate.

“I’m not quite sure how to approach this, but we have a very, very difficult odour in this chamber as we have had in the entire building most of the morning,” he said.

“As an old plumber, I used to work with this odour quite a bit. As a senator I haven’t quite so often.”

Mr. Plett asked Senate Speaker George Furey, what “the proper thing to do is” as some senators were getting overwhelmed.

“It is really starting to affect some of us and I think throughout the course of the day will affect a lot more of us,” he said.

Mr. Furey said Black Rod – a parliamentary official wearing a ceremonial frock coat who is responsible for security in the chamber – went to investigate whether Senate staff were also affected by the smell.

“I understand that a number of senators have been complaining of headaches and other discomfiture with this odour that we can all smell over here in the chamber,” Mr. Furey said. “I understand that it is not just in the chamber, but it’s in other parts of the building as well.”

Senators halted debate to discuss what to do and then decided to abandon the chamber and come back the next day while officials tried to alleviate the stench.

“I’m not sure how to describe the smell, it’s not pleasant,” said Karine Leroux, a Senate staff member.

Mr. Plett told The Globe and Mail that it was “a strong sewer, gas smell which can be quite dangerous to health and safety.”