Canada’s long­est-serv­ing sen­a­tor re­tires af­ter nearly 35 years

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS - LAURA STONE PAR­LIA­MEN­TARY RE­PORTER OT­TAWA

She was known among her col­leagues as the Dean of the Se­nate, a true orig­i­nal and, in the words of fel­low sen­a­tor Peter Harder, never one to shy away from con­tro­versy – “even to the point of ir­ri­ta­tion.” Sen­a­tor Anne Cools – armed with stacks of books and a seem­ingly end­less abil­ity to pon­tif­i­cate about, well, the Se­nate – was a fix­ture in the or nate halls of Par­lia­ment Hill for more than three decades. She was appointed to the Se­nate on the rec­om­men­da­tion of prime min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau on Jan. 13,1984, at the ten­der age of 40.

Not that she thinks she changed much. “I’m very con­nected to the out­side world,” she said re­cently from her base­ment of­fice be­low the Se­nate foyer. “I mean, my name is the most rec­og­nized name as a sen­a­tor.”

The long­est-serv­ing mem­ber of the Red Cham­ber, Ms. Cools re­tired on Sun­day, the day of her 75th birth­day – the manda­tory re­tire­ment age for se­na­tors.

Stick­ing it out un­til the end just makes sense for some­one who has long prided her­self on do­ing things her way.

“Peo­ple of­ten look up and say, ‘The only in­de­pen­dent in this place is Sen­a­tor Cools,’ ” she said. “I’m, I would say, dif­fer­ent.”

Along the way, she built a ca­reer out of be­ing a con­trar­ian. She pas­sion­ately de­fended Sen­a­tor

Mike Duffy, whom she says was sub­jected to “gra­tu­itous cru­elty” dur­ing the ex­pense scan­dal. She urged jour­nal­ists to iden­tify the sources who leaked de­tails of the 2015 Au­di­tor-Gen­eral’s ex­pense probe. And she once pub­licly claimed she saw a sen­a­tor hit a child but now says, “I chose not to do any­thing about it.”

First appointed as a Lib­eral, she crossed the floor in 2004 to the Con­ser­va­tives, only to get kicked out three years later af­ter crit­i­ciz­ing prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper, who, she said, “saw noth­ing wrong with ru­in­ing a per­son’s life.” She later joined the newly formed In­de­pen­dent Se­na­tors’ Group af­ter a pe­riod of non-af­fil­i­a­tion.

“Sen­a­tor Cools is not one for half-mea­sures,” Con­ser­va­tive Sen­a­tor Larry Smith said dur­ing a Se­nate trib­ute to Ms. Cools at the end of June. “She isa trail blazer who has al­ways fol­lowed the beat of her own drum and gone about her life and work in her own unique way.”

For starters, there is her un­ri­valled rev­er­ence for the Red Cham­ber it­self.

A visit to her of­fice stretched on for al­most two hours and in­cluded a lengthy and spir­ited read­ing of a book of un­pub­lished doc­u­ments about the Bri­tish North Amer­ica Act.

In­deed, read­ing and talk­ing about the Se­nate may be her legacy. She has given more than 350 speeches in the cham­ber – not in­clud­ing in­ter­ven­tions or off-the-cuff con­tri­bu­tions to de­bates – and spends much of her time read­ing his­tory and Canadian law books.

“With her de­par­ture, we lose a deep source of cor­po­rate me­mory and an ex­pert in par­lia­men­tary gov­ern­ment, at least since 1066,” Mr. Harder said dur­ing her trib­ute.

Ms. Cools im­mi­grated to Canada from Bar­ba­dos at 13. She stud­ied so­cial work at McGill Univer­sity in Mon­treal and par­tic­i­pated in a sit-in at Sir Ge­orge Wil­liams Univer­sity – now part of Con­cor­dia Univer­sity – over al­leged racism. She went on to found one of Canada’s first women’s shel­ters, in Toronto, and worked in the field of fam­ily vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion.

The first black Canadian appointed to the Se­nate, she now says she hasn’t thought about it much since.

“What can I tell you, I spent my life be­ing first,” she said. “My skin has never been top of mind in my life.”

Be­fore her ap­point­ment, she was a fed­eral Lib­eral can­di­date in the tony Toronto rid­ing of Rosedale, but lost in both the 1979 and 1980 elec­tions. A month be­fore he de­cided to leave of­fice in 1984, Mr. Trudeau – who she says had “great af­fec­tion” for her – called to of­fer her a seat in the Se­nate.

Her proud­est work dur­ing her time on Par­lia­ment Hill washer ad­vo­cacy for the rights of fa­ther sin di­vorce cases. In 1998, she was a mem­ber of a spe­cial joint com­mit­tee on child cus­tody, which rec­om­mended more fo­cus on a child’s well-be­ing and fair treat­ment for fa­thers.

In re­tire­ment, Ms. Cools said she’ll keep busy read­ing and spend­ing time with her hus­band of 30 years. She still plans to do pub­lic speak­ing for groups such as the Bomber Com­mand Cam­paign, which com­mem­o­rates the young air­men of the Se­cond World War.

And she still ex­pects to be known by the ti­tle she held for al­most 35 years.

“Once you’ve been a sen­a­tor, peo­ple can keep call­ing you sen­a­tor,” she said. “Ev­ery­body does that.”

Sen­a­tor Cools is not one for halfmea­sures. She is a trail­blazer who has al­ways fol­lowed the beat of her own drum and gone about her life and work in her own unique way. LARRY SMITH


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