Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named nine new, non-affiliated senators Thursday, bringing him within reach of his goal to transform the discredited Senate into a more reputable, independent chamber of sober second thought.
The five women and four men hail from a wide variety of backgrounds, from an art historian to a renowned human rights lawyer to a conservationist.
They are the first senators to be chosen under an arm’s-length process that saw more than 2,700 Canadians apply to fill the 21 vacancies in the upper house.
After today, there are still 12 vacancies — six each in Ontario and Quebec. Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate, said Thursday that appointments to fill those vacancies would come in the next few days.
When those are announced, independent senators will hold a plurality of 44 seats.
Thursday’s appointees are:
Malaysian-born Yuen Pau Woo, former president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and currently senior fellow in public policy at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia.
Manitoba art historian Patricia Bovey, former director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, former member of the board of trustees of the National Gallery of Canada and the board of the Canada Council for the Arts.
Lawyer and human rights activist Marilou McPhedran, co-leader of the Ad Hoc Committee of Canadian Women on the Constitution, a grassroots movement in the early 1980s that successfully campaigned for stronger equality rights provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Former member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, former chief commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, currently a professor at the University of Winnipeg Global College.
New Brunswick francophone René Cormier, president of the Société Nationale de l’Acadie, the lead organization for the international strategy for the promotion of Acadian artists. Formerly, president of the Commission internationale du théâtre francophone, director of the Théâtre populaire d’Acadie, president of the Fédération culturelle Canadienne-française and board member of the Canadian Conference of the Arts.
New Brunswick women’s issues expert Nancy Hartling, founder of the non-profit Support to Single Parents Inc. and founder of St. James Court Inc., an affordable housing complex for single parents. Co-chaired the provincial minister’s working group on violence against women.
Winnipeg psychiatrist Harvey Chochinov, internationally recognized expert in palliative care. The previous Harper government appointed Chochinov to chair an external panel that consulted Canadians on possible legislative options following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling striking down the ban on medically assisted dying. His appointment was controversial because Chochinov had argued in court against legalizing assisted dying.
Nova Scotia social worker and educator Wanda Thomas Bernard, the first African-Canadian to hold a tenure-track position at Dalhousie University and to be promoted to full professor. A founding member of the Association of Black Social Workers, current chair of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
Daniel Christmas, senior adviser for the Mi’kmaw First Nation of Membertou, N.S. He is credited with playing a key role in transforming his home community from a First Nation on the brink of bankruptcy to one of the most successful in Canada. Former director of advisory services for the Union of Nova Scotia Indians.
Prince Edward Island conservationist Diane Griffin, former provincial deputy minister of environmental resources. Recipient of the Governor General’s Conservation award. Currently a councillor on Stratford, P.E.I., town council.
A step toward Senate reform
Trudeau took the first step toward transforming the Senate in January 2014, when he kicked senators out of the Liberal caucus in a bid to diminish the hyper-partisanship he maintained had destroyed the Senate’s intended role as an independent chamber of sober second thought.
The much-maligned chamber was engulfed in the notorious expenses scandal at the time, which exposed the degree to which former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office attempted to manipulate the Senate’s Conservative majority.
Shortly after taking power last fall, Trudeau created an arm’s length advisory board to recommend nominees to fill Senate vacancies. While the new appointment process does not preclude people who’ve been involved in partisan politics, it is supposed to put a premium on merit.
In the initial phase of its work, the board accepted nominations of potential senators from organizations across the country. It recommended 25 of them to Trudeau, from which he named seven independent senators in March, including veteran bureaucrat Peter Harder to be the government’s representative in the upper house.
Today’s nine are the first to be appointed under the second, permanent phase, under which individuals can apply directly to the board to become senators.
The Canadian Press has learned that more than 2,700 people applied; the board recommended 105 of them (five for each of the 21 vacancies) to Trudeau.
In addition to the independents so far appointed by Trudeau, some senators have left the Conservative and Liberal Senate caucuses to join the ranks of non-aligned senators.
With their imminent plurality in the chamber, independents will be able to hasten the evolution of the upper house, whose operation has traditionally been geared to senators belonging to a governing party caucus and an opposition caucus. Among other things, the independents should be able to secure a bigger share of research budgets and increased membership on Senate committees.