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‘The Senate’s future is promising’: Upon his retirement, Senator Pratte reveals the vast potential of the Red Chamber
November 19, 2019

Senator André Pratte had a long career as an award-winning journalist and columnist before he was appointed to the Senate in 2016. Upon his departure, the Quebec senator relives some memorable moments from his time in the Senate — and shares his belief that the Red Chamber has a promising future.


 

How did you feel when you were appointed to the Senate?

I was on vacation at the time — I wasn’t at all expecting to receive a call from the prime minister. I had submitted my application a few months earlier, so I had sort of forgotten about it.

So I was very surprised. And when you speak to the prime minister, it always leaves an impression! I felt that it was a great honour. Very few Canadians have the opportunity to serve in the Senate.

How did your career as a journalist prepare you for your time in the Senate?

I can’t say I was wholly prepared. The Senate is going through a period of change right now and nobody really knew what to expect. As a reporter, I had covered politics and public policy for many years and I was familiar with the legislative process. I had a basic idea of what to expect, but the day-to-day of political life, the debates, the speeches, the negotiations, the comprises — these were all new to me. It was very exciting, but it was also difficult at times.

Senator André Pratte speaks in the Red Chamber during a committee of the whole meeting where cabinet ministers answered senators’ questions about Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act.

What is your most memorable moment from your time in the Senate?

I’m thinking particularly of Bill C-14, about medical assistance in dying, because senators had a truly impressive debate about it, without partisanship. Each senator expressed their point of view based on their own personal convictions and experiences. The speeches were emotional, but the tenor of the debate was incredibly respectful.

At its heart, it was also a debate on the nature of the Senate itself: what is our role in relation to the House of Commons, or to the courts, or to government? It made me really sit up and take notice — it was a demonstration of what the Senate does best.

Why should Canadians take a greater interest in the Senate?

I learned in my short time at the Senate that, even today, very few people know exactly what the Senate does. They don’t necessarily know that, for a bill to become law, the House of Commons and the Senate both have to pass it. That’s too bad, because the Senate would get more attention if more people knew about its role.

The work of the Senate is incredibly important: to ensure that bills are properly drafted and that they say what they’re supposed to say, to ensure that the fundamental rights of Canadians and minorities are upheld, and that the powers of the provinces and regions are respected. Before we even talk about making significant changes to the Senate, I think more people need to understand it. There needs to be more public education about it.

Senator Pratte explains his support for Bill S-231, the Journalistic Sources Protection Act, at an event in Ottawa. The former reporter and columnist reminded senators that sources take great risks to expose the machinations of “incompetent or dishonest people.” The Senate public bill, drafted by Senator Claude Carignan, became law in 2017.

What’s next for you?

That’s a question that I’m trying to answer right now. I’ll certainly stay in the realm of communications, which is my home turf — but I’m not sure how yet. I’ve always been interested in the economic and business environments, and particularly in entrepreneurship. I’ve toyed for a long time with the idea of doing my MBA — that’s a gap in my own education. So I’m going to go back to school at the age of 62. I’m fascinated by people who create their own businesses and I’d like to learn more.

I’m also in the middle of putting together a book about my time at the Senate to help people learn about its role — as I said earlier, I think that’s very important. It should be published in French this winter.

What advice would you give to a new senator?

I would say to go in with your eyes wide open — you really have to know what you’re getting yourself into. I think many of us learned that these days, contrary to popular perception, being a senator is extremely demanding work.

At the same time, you have to go in with ideals. The Senate’s future is promising. It can get significantly better, but much work has already been done. Even if I am leaving because I don’t think that I quite fit the job description, what is happening in the Senate is extremely promising. So my advice would be to go in with foresight and with ideals.