Canadian Politics (Federal)

Trudeau announces 9 new senators, more appointments to come this week

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the appointment of nine new senators – five women and four men – keeping with his promise to shake up the upper house that has almost become synonymous with old, white, male, entitled partisan hacks.

None of these appointees have official ties to the prime minister’s Liberal party, as they were selected under a new arms-length process that allowed Canadians of all backgrounds to apply, leading to 2,700 applications, of which 105 were recommended to Trudeau.  He is expected to name two more bundles of senators in the next few days, according to the Canadian Press.

The current nine nominees- who run the gamut of backgrounds from business to social work – come from B.C., Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. They are:

  • Harvey Chochinov, a Winnipeg psychiatrist and internationally renowned expert in palliative care, who is particularly notable for his opposition to assisted suicide, which was passed into legislation by the Trudeau government earlier this year.
  • Patricia Bovey, a Manitoba art historian who is the former director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and former board member of both the National Gallery of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts.
  • Yuen Pau Woo, a Malaysian-born professor of public policy at the University of British Columbia and former president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
  • Marilou McPhedran, a lawyer, human rights activist and professor at the University of Winnipeg Global College. She was the co-leader of the Ad Hoc Committee of Canadian Women and the Constitution, which in the early 1980s successfully campaigned for stronger equality provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, passed by Trudeau’s father.
  • Rene Cormier, president of the New Brunswick-based Societe Nationale de l’Acadie, which promotes Acadian artists abroad, and formerly of the Commission international du theatre francophone.
  • Nancy Hartling, a women’s issues expert from New Brunswick who founded the non-profit Support to Single Parents Inc. and St. James Court Inc., which provides affordable housing to single parents.
  • Wanda Thomas Bernard, the first African-Canadian to hold a tenure track position and become full member of Dalhousie University. She is also a founding member of the Association of Black Social Workers and the present chair of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
  • Daniel Christmas, senior advisor for the M’ikmaw First Nation in Membertou, N.S., is credited with the economic transformation of his community that was once approaching bankruptcy into what the Canadian Press calls “one of the most successful in Canada.”
  • Diane Griffin, a Stratford, P.E.I., town councillor, who received the Governor General’s Conservation award and used to be the provincial deputy minister of environmental resources.

Earlier this year, Trudeau named seven senators selected under the same arms-length process. Of them, only one – House Leader Peter Harder, a long-time bureaucrat – had ties to the current government.

All of the prime minister’s appointees will sit as independents, a custom that began when Trudeau booted Liberal senators from his caucus when he was still a third-party leader in 2014.

The New Democrats, who were then Official Opposition and now a dwindling third-party, vowed to scrap the Senate altogether, while ex-prime minister Stephen Harper simply ceased appointing senators in 2015, creating the vacancies Trudeau is filling.

The impetus for this appetite for change in the upper chamber was the expense scandal of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, who was charged with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, and acquitted of every single one, which is why he remains in the Senate.

Charles Vaillancort, the judge who presided over the Duffy trial, said in his ruling that the regulations for senators’ expenses were too vague and accused the former prime minister of essentially scapegoating Duffy to take the bigger issue of senators’ lavish lifestyles away from the public eye.

The systemic problem of entitlement in the Senate will not be fixed by Trudeau’s efforts to make the upper house less partisan, however laudable a goal that may be.

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