Tony Dean was appointed to the Senate of Canada on November 10th, 2016. From 2002 to 2008, Senator Dean was Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Ontario Public Service. Senator Dean is a member of the Senate Committee on Senate Modernization, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, as well as the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.
Who or what inspired you to get involved in public life?
After raising three kids, my mother worked with children taken into care. Her work and the stories she shared about inter-generational damage inspired me to work in the public sector. As part of an apprenticeship in a tire factory, I enrolled in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program, volunteering in one of those old-school psychiatric hospitals — this was another window into the lives of vulnerable people and how much reliance there is on public services.
I've also been inspired by and learned from public service leaders who step up in tough circumstances to guide their organizations through periods of significant change. Rita Burak, one of my predecessors as Ontario's Cabinet Secretary, is one of these people. The same is true of some political leaders — regardless of their party — that I have been privileged to support.
What do you think are the biggest public policy issues facing Canada today?
No surprises here, but income inequality, the changing nature of work, housing and adequate retirement income are major challenges and are all in many ways related. We will have to find a better balance between efforts to grow the economy while protecting the environment; and governments will have to become much more porous and collaborative in the way they make policy and deliver important public services. There is little that governments can accomplish on their own anymore and that includes policy-making.
Why should more Canadians care about what happens in the Senate?
We are fortunate in Canada to live in a democracy — and the Senate plays an important role in our system of democratic governance. In 2014, the Supreme Court confirmed the importance of the Senate's role in complementing the work of the House of Commons in reviewing proposed legislation and looking out for the interests of regions and minorities. Canadians saw the importance of Senate scrutiny in its 2016 debates on assisted dying legislation. We should build on this experience as we work hard to make the Senate more relevant and transparent.
What legislative or committee work are you most proud of participating in to date?
In these early days, I'm finding my feet in contributing to the work of the Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology and the Special Committee on Senate Modernization.
My proudest moment so far was seeing Senate approval of legislation to improve Canada Pension Plan benefits. The legislation is an important step towards improving retirement income security for Canadians — and especially younger workers. I was the bill's sponsor, which meant that I had to both explain it and defend it in the Senate and when it was reviewed at the Social Affairs Committee.
What is a hidden gem in your region that more Canadians need to know about?
Northern Ontario is a world-class treasure of natural beauty and wildlife. I have a very basic camp on the Montreal River near Elk Lake which is off-grid and out of cellular range. It's a long drive from Toronto but is a different world and one that I enjoy very much.
Can you name a guilty pleasure song / album that always makes you smile and why?
Just chocolate and chocolate!
My favourite album by a mile is Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" and on it is my favourite song, titled "Cyprus Avenue", which for me is about getting caught one more time in a favourite place or memory.
What is the last book you read or movie you saw which you recommended to someone else and why?
It was the movie Moonlight, which sensitively captures the tensions and pressures associated with masculinity and how these are carried forward to adulthood.
What sports team (amateur/professional) do you support?
Growing up in the UK Midlands, I made my choice at the age of 10 or 11 — my favourite football (soccer) team is West Bromwich Albion, who play in the English Premier League alongside teams like Manchester United and Arsenal. They are doing well this season and I will often tweet about their games on Saturdays (especially when they win).
Why are you proud to be Canadian?
My father was stationed in Burma and throughout South East Asia during the Second World War. He saw his share of brutality and atrocities on all sides and didn’t care to talk about it much. I recall him saying though how decent and even-handed the Canadian troops were.
I was fortunate to immigrate here after studying for a master’s degree in sociology in Hamilton, Ontario. I was warmly welcomed and many people extended a helping hand. I’ve benefited from tremendous opportunities and been in jobs where I feel that I have been able to make a difference.
But none of us accomplishes these things alone — and the same is true of senators. We are fortunate to be assisted by highly professional staff and officials in the Senate. So the opportunities that we have in this country, the way we treat one another, and the role we play internationally are something to be proud about. My dad was right.
Banner photo: After 8 great years with these first-rate students and faculty, Senator Dean says farewell to his final graduate class of University of Toronto's School of Public Policy and Governance upon being appointed to the Senate, December 2016.