By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 30, 2012 - 0 Comments
“Joyce Fairbairn served her country, and especially her province of Alberta, with dignity, pride and devotion in the more than 40 years of her public life. She broke ground throughout her distinguished career as one of the first women journalists in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, senior advisor to Prime Minister Trudeau, and then as the first woman Leader of the Government in the Senate. She worked tirelessly to help Canadians, especially those facing challenges, particularly through her work on literacy and the Paralympics. And, as she now faces health challenges of her own, she continues to inspire all of us.
“Arlene and I have enjoyed Joyce’s friendship for a long time, and we look forward to that continuing for years to come.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 31, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Jordan Press notes the constitutional conundrum Senator Fairbairn might present.
The Senate internal economy committee has asked for a legal opinion about Fairbairn that experts say will have to review constitutional rules about how one qualifies to be and remain in the Senate and whether Parliament can change those rules without having the provinces agree to amending the Constitution.
“You can’t create new mechanisms for removal short of the ones that are in there and for good reason. Do we really want someone to be able to question someone’s mental capacity to remove them from office? Can you imagine the legal machinations that politicians could get up to?” said Bruce Hicks, a political scientist from Carleton University. “The issue then comes down to do we remove a person who is ill and should we remove them and under what grounds do we remove them? At what level do we have a right to remove a person who has the constitutional right to sit in the chamber? The issue is a constitutional one at the heart of it.”
Joanna Smith notes how little we know about the specifics of Senator Fairbairn’s condition.
What, exactly, does a declaration of incompetence mean and what relevance does it have to the fact that Fairbairn continued to sit in the Senate — voting a dozen times along party lines after it was signed — until the end of June? Without being able to see the document or speak to Fairbairn or her joint agents about it, the declaration can mean any number of things, including very little.
Mary Schulz, education director at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, said the first thing to remember is that dementia does not affect every aspect of life all at once. “Having a diagnosis of dementia doesn’t mean that you are suddenly unable to do anything. . . . A person can be competent in some areas and incompetent in others,” Schulz said, adding that competency can change from one day to the next. “Ultimately we’re going to be incompetent in every way, but it’s an insidious process, it’s a complex process and it’s not a black-and-white process,” Schulz said.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 9:43 AM - 0 Comments
Don Martin considers Senator Fairbairn’s situation.
Only now is bear-witness evidence surfacing that her sad condition should not have surprised anyone. One Conservative MP confides she found Sen. Fairbairn wandering Ottawa’s downtown Sparks Street in a disoriented haze and had to be guided to her residence. Another found her unescorted in the Ottawa airport, unsure how to get downtown. A political staffer says he found Fairbairn seated in the Senate foyer with no idea what she was doing there … While one insider suggests she might have been declared mentally incompetent later than February, there’s enough anecdotal evidence to suggest Fairbairn was in mental distress last spring.
Stephen Maher adds his perspective.
A year ago Wednesday, the Ottawa Citizen got a tip suggesting that Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn was not well enough to do her job. Reporter Glen McGregor asked the Liberals in the Senate, who told him that she was fine. Last week, he learned that she had been diagnosed with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. He informed the Liberals of that, after which they announced that she would go on sick leave for her final two years in the Senate. It is likely that McGregor’s questions prompted the Liberals to take action, months after her tragic condition had become apparent to people who met her casually.
Leslie MacKinnon asks the obvious question.
It’s a question Conservative Senator David Tkachuk asks: why doesn’t Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn just retire? … But Fairbairn is resisting resigning, says Marc Roy, a spokesman for Senator Jim Cowan, the Opposition Leader in the Senate. “The next step will be determined by the evolution of Fairbairn’s medical condition.” Fairbairn was at the “Whoop Up Days” parade in her hometown of Lethbridge, Alta., just a week ago and has been at other public events this summer. Fairbairn is aware that she won’t be going back to Ottawa, Roy says, but believes she can still represent the people of Alberta.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 12:47 PM - 0 Comments
In an email to the Post’s Jonathan Kay, a Conservative senator blames the Liberal side.
According to this veteran Conservative Senator, Fairbairn’s saga has been going on at least since 2009. Since then, he says, “we [Senators] have been quietly asked not to challenge Joyce in Committee or the Chamber, because she wasn’t well. This game of being ‘nice’ has been going on for too long.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 9:49 AM - 0 Comments
Liberal Senator Jim Munson defends Joyce Fairbairn.
Munson, the Liberal whip in the Senate, said he has no doubt Fairbairn was able to grasp the content of legislation and understand what she was voting on. He takes issue with the suggestion that the party deliberately kept her working to somehow save her spot in the Senate. “From my perspective, with the Conservative majority, one vote would not make a difference, but Senator Fairbairn’s vote made a difference to me,” Munson said. “She was well briefed, ready to vote, and knew what she was doing.”
Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton has concerns.
“Any story like this certainly calls into question, in some people’s minds, the whole role of the Senate and it does impact on the Senate. There is no doubt about it,” 72-year-old LeBreton said in an interview Tuesday … “It does present a constitutional dilemma had there been close votes, for instance, so that troubled me and it troubled me that despite a lot of concern expressed by people on our side for Joyce, that we didn’t hear about this till August,” said LeBreton, who expressed her sadness over the situation facing a woman she has known as respected since 1965.
According to the Star, the Liberals say Senator James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate, learned of the declaration of incompetence on August 13. That would be four months after Senator Cowan’s chief of staff signed a document to make himself an agent on Senator Fairbairn’s behalf and six months after Senator Fairbairn’s psychiatrist signed the declaration of incompetence. According to the Star, “Liberal leadership in the Senate had full confidence in Fairbairn throughout the months that she sat in the upper chamber and voted on legislation.”
Whether Senator Fairbairn’s votes could have been pivotal seems besides the point. The first question is this: Should anyone who has been declared incompetent be voting in the Senate or House of Commons? Maybe it’s difficult to answer that question without getting into the specifics of Ms. Fairbairn’s condition at the time, but maybe this is a discussion that has to be had. It’s not a pleasant discussion, but here we are.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 4:51 PM - 0 Comments
Jonathan Kay considers the situation with Senator Fairbairn.
The folks commenting on this story in the mainstream press and social media, even the snarky ones, aren’t mocking Senator Fairbairn. They’re mocking what her case says about the Senate. And they’re absolutely right to do so, even if the underlying news story is sad and personal. In fact, I know of no single episode that better summarizes the need for Senate reform.
Either the Canadian Senate is important and useful, or it is not. And if it is important and useful, then it demands intellectually competent members — which Ms. Fairbarn, sadly, isn’t anymore. If she is not legally competent to enter into a contract to buy a house or sell stock, why did her fellow Senate Liberals see fit to line her up to vote on legislation affecting 33-million people? The fact that they saw nothing wrong with this suggests that they themselves see their body as a sinecure pasture. And obviously, that candid insight into Senators’ own views is something deserving of reportage and even mockery.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 2:39 PM - 0 Comments
A statement from Liberal Senator James Cowan.
My friend and colleague the Honourable Senator Joyce Fairbairn, P.C., has been the subject of considerable media attention in the past few days. Senator Fairbairn has devoted a good part of her long and distinguished public life to helping persons with disabilities.
Unfortunately, Senator Fairbairn has developed health challenges of her own, as a result of which she will be unable to take up her legislative duties when the Senate resumes sitting in late September and will go on sick leave. With the help and support of her family, friends and advisers, she is dealing with her situation and in the most appropriate manner.
Members of Parliament, like everyone else, have health issues from time to time and deserve the same respect for their privacy as other Canadians.
I am sure that I speak for all of her friends on Parliament Hill and across Canada when I wish her the very best in these trying circumstances.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 11:17 AM - 0 Comments
Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn, 72, has been receiving round-the-clock care for a year and a half due to her declining health from dementia and will not return to Ottawa for the time being, according to a letter her niece, Patricia McCullagh, sent to Senate officials earlier this month. The letter, dated Aug. 13, says that a geriatric psychiatrist signed a declaration of incompetence for Fairbairn sometime in February and that in April, McCullagh and Leonard Kuchar, chief of staff to Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan, co-signed a power of care that made them agents acting on her behalf.
Senate attendance records show that Fairbairn regularly attended sittings in the Upper Chamber after being declared incompetent, missing seven sitting days between February and the end of session in June. She was away on public business for five of those days, leaving only two absences unexplained. She voted along Liberal lines a dozen times during that same time period, including seven times in June on the Copyright Act, the omnibus budget implementation bill and changes to the immigration and refugee system.
When I asked for comment last night, a Liberal spokesman said he could only say Senator Fairbairn—as reported last week—will be on sick leave when the Senate returns in the fall and he could not comment on the nature of her health concerns.
By Mitchel Raphael - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
The 2010 Paralympic torch was lit in Ottawa prior to the Games in Vancouver….
The 2010 Paralympic torch was lit in Ottawa prior to the Games in Vancouver. Below, Rick Mercer with fans.
Defense Minister Peter MacKay.
By Mitchel Raphael - Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 12:54 AM - 26 Comments
Members of Katimavik, Canada’s leading youth service program, were on the Hill for a…
Members of Katimavik, Canada’s leading youth service program, were on the Hill for a reception which they do several times a year. Joining them was Montreal Liberal MP Justin Trudeau who used to be Chair of the Board of Directors of Katimavik. Trudeau poses below with a youth and loaf of bread.
The kids were also joined by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.