The Honourable Senator Larry W. Smith was appointed to the Senate in 2011 on the advice of the Right Honourable Prime Minister Stephen Harper and currently serves as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. He is well-known in Montreal from his days as a fullback with the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Montreal Alouettes from 1972 to 1980. He later served as president and CEO of the team after his time as CFL commissioner.
Who inspired you to get involved in public life?
As a young person growing up in the ‘60s, there were significant contributions made by Prime Ministers of the time, starting with John Diefenbaker on to Pierre Trudeau and then there was President John F. Kennedy in the United States, of course.
I never forgot the impressions they left with me, especially Kennedy. The ability he had to communicate and lead — it was such a shame what happened to him. But as a young person, sometimes you see people and you say, “Gee, I want to be like that person.” So I always had in the back of my mind that political life would, at some point, be an interest. It seems to have worked out that way.
What do you think are the biggest public policy issues facing Canada today?
It started about a year and a half ago when Bill C-2 (An Act to amend the Income Tax Act) came out after the present government was elected. They talked about tax fairness and were asking the 1% to pay a bigger share. We amended the legislation to better reflect those goals but a debate ensued about how the Senate could modify bills. As we all found out that for bills relating to taxation, we can reduce government revenue but never increase it. At the end of the day, the changes we made would’ve led to a slight increase at the top of the income spectrum, so it was shot down.
But that debate was a tremendous introduction to the continuing conversation on the so-called “middle class.” This government is still unable to define what the middle class is, so it’s hard to determine who is benefitting from the changes they’re trying to make. Now, we’ve just ended a consulting period on his next proposed tax changes so we’ll see where that goes.
Immigration and illegal immigration are other big issues facing Canadians today. NAFTA, of course, is front and centre, too.
Why should more Canadians care about what happens in the Senate?
The Senate is not only a historical institution, it revolves around the concept of sober second thought. The truth is when MPs are elected, for the first two years, they really do focus on their jobs. But then you get to a period after which they‘re back in election mode — which is normal.
In the Senate, we’re here for a longer period of time. That gives us the chance to focus on issues, more complex legislation and to give it a deeper look. This was demonstrated by the assisted-dying bill which, I think, was one the best pieces of legislation to ever to come out of the Senate.
What legislative or committee work are you most proud of participating in to date?
I had a chance to be deputy chair of the Senate Committee on National Finance for almost five years and then I was chair for about a year and half before taking on the job of Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. That was tremendously interesting.
We changed up how questions were asked, we asked deputy ministers to ensure not only finance people came to our meetings but operational people, too, so that we could get the bigger picture.
We did some outstanding work studying the escalator tax bill, for instance, and it went beyond partisan politics with great contributions on all sides.
What is a hidden gem in your region that more Canadians need to know about?
In my youth, I went to Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec. When you drive down through the Eastern Townships of Quebec in early fall, the leaves are turning, there are beautiful lakes, and hills and mountains which later become ski resorts. It’s really something to behold.
I‘m not sure enough Canadians have had the opportunity to spend time down there at some of these outstanding locations in the area.
Can you name a guilty pleasure song / album that always makes you smile and why?
Rolling Stones: Satisfaction. All the hard rock from ‘65 to ‘70 — that was my era. I was in a rock band myself. Our peak was playing at Expo ’67, where we opened at Canada Place in the British Pavilion. Of course, back then, everyone who was young wanted to get a guitar and learn how to play — and I was one of them.
What is the last book you read or movie you saw which you recommended to someone else and why?
An outstanding movie with an outstanding performance is “Concussion” with Will Smith. As a former professional athlete, and knowing some of the knocks I took over the years, on my head, seeing that movie was very sobering.
It sends a message to parents in terms of knowing the importance of making sure that your child knows how to protect himself or herself if involved in contact sports. There are always risks you take when you get involved in something where you’re going to get hit.
What sports team (amateur/professional) do you support?
Well if you come from Montreal, you’re a Canadiens fan.
Hopefully, people still support the Alouettes, although right now they’re not doing too well. I had a great time for 12 years, trying to rebuild that franchise with help of many people and we were quite successful.
Why are you proud to be Canadian?
I’m proud to live in a country that really offers you unlimited opportunities, where you have tremendous freedom. I’m also proud of the value system of Canadians. People are accommodating, open and respectful.