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‘Part of my personality’: Senator Anne Cools reflects on her Senate career
August 13, 2018

Senator Anne Clare Cools retired from the Senate in August 2018, after more than 34 years in Parliament of Canada. She was its dean and longest-serving member.

In 1984, she was the first black person appointed to the Senate and the first black female senator in all of North America. She was appointed as a Liberal and has sat as a member of every caucus group, including the new Independent Senators Group, in which she ended her illustrious parliamentary career.

In the 1990s Senator Cools served on the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on child custody and access after divorce. Senator Cools upholds the importance of mothers’ and fathers’ meaningful involvement in the lives of their children. In fact, she was widely seen as the leading advocate for the rights of fathers.

She also earned a reputation for thoughtful, researched speeches in the Senate Chamber.

SenCAplus asked Senator Cools to reflect on her time in the Senate.


After more than 34 years in Parliament’s upper house, you have become the dean of the Senate. Has the Senate changed since you were appointed in 1984?

I suppose you can say the Senate has changed and then you could say that it has not changed.

It is still doing what it was always intended to do, which is to consider legislation from the House of Commons. Not only consider, but to express the Senate’s opinion on the legislation.

Respecting the importance of the Senate performing its vital constitutional role, I do not believe that the Senate has changed at all. The Senate cannot change or be changed because its role as one of the three institutions of our Constitution is clearly predefined by the Constitution Act of Canada.

Is there a project you remember as having been particularly rewarding?

There were many. But I especially recall in 1997 and 1998, I served as a member of the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on Child Custody and Access. This joint committee’s work generated their celebrated report, For the Sake of the Children.

This joint committee’s work and report led to a huge shift in public opinion Canada-wide. It revealed that Canadians believed that fathers and children were getting short shrift in divorce and custody cases.

This seismic shift was a stellar moment for me, personally. The committee’s work was very successful in advancing the rights of fathers and children.

Senator Anne Cools sits in her Senate office. Senator Cools earned a reputation as a procedural master and for her thoroughly researched speeches. She attributes her ability to communicate ideas respecting Parliament, society and the law to her vast reading and comprehension of Canadian constitutional history.

Since 2015, the government has said it is trying to make the Senate less partisan. What is the role of partisanship in the Senate now compared to 1984?

Many people have spread the mistaken idea that the Senate was intended to be non-partisan. That simply is not true. I have looked to the Confederation Debates. They show that there was much debate around the question of fair representation to both political parties, meaning the opposition and the government party. The party in power was known as supporters of the government and those not in power were called the opposition.

In other words, the system upholds that there must always be a “government in waiting,” waiting to replace the current government. If we were to rid ourselves of political partisanship, we would quickly learn that we have reduced the ability of Canadians to replace a government which was flawed and misguided. Our constitution leaves us the ability and the power to remove and replace a government for good reasons, and without much ado.

If we assemble, as the two Houses of Parliament, people of like-mind to decide policy and legislation, we will quickly learn that if we don’t give them a sense of principles by which they can govern, then will they will operate by private and personal interest, not by known and agreed upon principles.

Human beings are what they are. Either you give them principles and ideas to follow or they will fall back to their own private and personal interests — I want this; you want that. This sort of thing is more common in other jurisdictions outside of Canada.

The concept of having a partisan Senate protects us and delivers us from the idea of senators satisfying their personal and private interests.

The Senate has worked very well in the last 150 years indeed.

Has the landscape changed in the last three years with the new way of appointing senators and the creation of the Independent Senators Group?

The Senate has worked successfully for the past 150 years. I do not believe that anyone would want to replace something that has been working so well for something that has never been tested. The Senate systemically is not open to frivolities or novelty.

These are systems that have been tried and tested and found to be true and reliable.
I think that when we have the best system, why would anyone want us to be second best.

Your colleagues paid tribute to the quality and quantity of speeches you have given in the Senate Chamber. You have made at least 350 of them over the years. Why is it important to be a good speaker and what has been your approach?

I’m told that I’ve made over 350. Anybody who can make 350 speeches in this place, that is quite an achievement. Most people have difficulty making one or two.

I do good work in terms of speeches.  It’s part of my personality. I’ve always been a very deep thinker.

Are you going quietly into retirement?

In my retirement, I wish to regain certain parts of my life and my persona. I have been so busy over the years, that I have lost some of my piano ability — I want to work on music recovery diligently. I used to go to the gym every other morning. I want to recover that practice as well. I also welcome the opportunity to work on my garden.

These in summary are my retirement projects.

My garden is another place where my energy is going. My garden. Oh my God, I’ve got so much to do in my garden. The weeds are overwhelming.