Senator Leo Housakos took his place in history on June 7 at the unveiling of a portrait commemorating his tenure as Speaker of the Senate during some of the Red Chamber’s most tumultuous times.
The son of Greek immigrants who arrived in Canada in the 1950s with little more than a nickel in their pockets, Senator Housakos flourished in Montreal as he took on challenges in politics and in business.
“My parents taught me the importance of family, hard work, honour, loyalty, civic duty and humility,” Senator Housakos said as his parents, wife and children looked on from the front row of a packed room off the Hall of Honour in Centre Block.
Speaker of the Senate George J. Furey, Senator Claude Carignan, recently-retired Senator Jim Cowan, House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan and former House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer paid tribute to Senator Housakos’ legacy.
First elected Speaker pro tempore in 2014 — just eight years after his appointment to the Senate — Senator Housakos became the 44th Speaker of the Senate on May 4, 2015 with the unanimous support of both government and opposition leaders following the death of Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin.
Senator Nolin, widely regarded as an exemplary Speaker, had been a mentor to Senator Housakos.
“I believe that Speaker Nolin would be extremely proud of his protégé,” Senator Cowan said.
Senator Carignan described his “tough” and “loyal” friend as “the pride of the Hellenic Canadian community” and a man profoundly devoted to renewing and modernizing the Senate.
Speaker Furey noted that Senator Housakos had sat in the Speaker’s chair at the height of the Senate’s troubles — but that he took that opportunity to instill reforms and rigorous accountability mechanisms, as well as revitalizing Senate communications to show the critical role senators play in Parliament.
“He has never shied away from defending our institution during periods of intense scrutiny,” Speaker Furey said.
“He embraced and encouraged all of us to embrace the fundamental principles of transparency, openness and accountability.”
House Speaker Regan expressed his admiration for the “multi-faceted man” while former House Speaker Scheer recalled working closely with Senator Housakos to revamp parliamentary security operations after the deadly shooting of October 22, 2014.
Senator Housakos and Speaker Furey together unveiled artist Paul Wyse’s portrait, which now hangs in the halls of Parliament next to that of Senator Nolin.
The portrait received a standing ovation; Senator Housakos thanked Mr. Wyse for “taking on the incredible challenge of trying to make me look good on canvas.”
Though no longer Speaker, Senator Housakos remains an influential figure in the Red Chamber as head of the powerful Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.
He continues to represent the division of Wellington in Quebec with his customary zeal.
“Dear friends, I thank you all for being a part of my life and indulging me today,” Senator Housakos said.
“There is no higher honour than serving this institution and the people of this great country.”