Conservative Senate Leader Don Plett apologized on the floor of the Red Chamber Thursday for yelling at female colleagues, saying his conduct earlier this month had been “unbecoming.”
Choking back tears, the veteran senator said he “never intended to cause harm or discomfort” when he approached senators Bernadette Clement and Raymonde Saint-Germain and shouted at them on Nov. 9 after moves to adjourn a debate on a bill that the Conservatives supported.
“I acknowledge that I lost my cool. I spoke too loudly, many would say yelled,” he said, adding that he had a hearing impediment, which meant that he often spoke loudly. “What I did was wrong, it was unprofessional, it was unbecoming, mostly it was unbecoming.”
“I stood in front of Senator Clement and Senator Saint-Germain and I was loud. Much too loud, and I apologize to both of them. It was wrong of me,” he said. “So colleagues, I promise that I will try to do better. Will I succeed? I hope you will forgive me if I don’t. But I will try.”
Senators Ms. Clement and Ms. Saint-Germain told The Globe and Mail that they “froze” when Mr. Plett approached them and started shouting.
In an interview, Ms. Clement said Mr. Plett “stood over our desks in very close proximity. I felt the spittle landing on my laptop. He was yelling.”
Ms. Saint-Germain told The Globe that she “felt disrespected.”
“I said, ‘Don’t speak to me like that,’ ” she said.
Mr. Plett’s apology followed an outcry on Tuesday evening in the Senate over his behaviour, and that of other Conservatives.
Senators hit out at a post last week on X, formerly Twitter, by former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, which they said was in the style of a wanted poster from the Wild West. The post urged members of the public to call Ms. Clement and Senator Chantal Petitclerc – whose photos and office phone numbers he posted.
Mr. Scheer’s post claimed they had shut down debate on a bill that would help farmers get a carbon pricing carve-out. It was reposted by Conservative senators Denise Batters and Leo Housakos.
The post prompted a stream of angry and insulting calls to the offices of Ms. Clement and Ms. Petitclerc. Ms. Clement also suffered racist abuse online and a threatening phone call from an unknown man who said he was coming to her house. The call prompted her to fear for her safety, leave her home and carry a panic button, and is being investigated by parliamentary security.
Ms. Saint-Germain, the facilitator of the Independent Senators Group, raised a point of parliamentary privilege with the Senate Speaker on Tuesday evening about what she said were Conservative intimidation attempts.
But Mr. Plett, backed by other Conservative senators, argued on Thursday that “being attacked on social media is not a question of privilege,” nor does it cover “sharp language” in the chamber.
He said that over the years, he had suffered a litany of abuse on social media. One night, he received 1,300 e-mails, including threats and doctored pictures of him, after a hearing of the legal committee on a prostitution bill.
“I don’t think any senator receives any more personal shots in this chamber than I, and I am okay with that,” he said.
He said parliamentary privilege was not the right tool to address personal abuse. But he added that violence in public discourse can be “a cancer on our democratic life and for sure something must be done about it.”
“There is no simple solution to this. And crucifying one senator over one incident” will not change things, he said.
In an emotional address, he said he had become angry and lost his temper on Nov. 9 after debate was halted on a Conservative-backed bill, which would remove federal carbon pricing from propane and natural gas used on farms for grain drying, barn heating and other purposes
He said he had thought senators had agreed that the Senate would finish its debate, but the discussions were adjourned after a motion by Ms. Clement, seconded by Ms. Petitclerc. The two senators said the adjournment was designed to allow colleagues who were not there to have a chance to speak.
Ms. Batters condemned “any harassment or threats” the two senators received, saying they were reprehensible and abhorrent. But she argued that Mr. Scheer’s post did not encourage the harassment or intimidation of the two senators. She added that she did not agree with the senators’ view that it resembled a wanted poster.
Ms. Batters disclosed that she had received thousands of abusive, harassing, insulting, sexist and violent comments, including from progressive “trolls” – as well as senators.
“Trolls delight in saying I only have my Senate job as a ‘pity appointment’ because my husband, former member of Parliament Dave Batters, killed himself – or that I drove him to it,” she said. She said that earlier this month that someone had posted what they hoped would be her coffin because she had criticized the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mr. Housakos, who also reposted Mr. Scheer’s post, said it was “inexcusable” that Senate colleagues should have been made to feel unsafe, saying it should never have happened.