'Overwhelming' responsibility: Libbe Hubley reflects on 16 years in Canada's Senate

Libbe Hubley spent almost three decades on the political stage, more than 15 of them in the Senate — now 75, Hubley announced her mandatory retirement from the red chamber last Friday.

'It was exciting but it was also scary'

'It's been an interesting time,' says Libbe Hubley of her time in the Senate. (Libbe Hubley/Facebook)

Libbe Hubley spent almost three decades on the political stage, more than 15 of them in the Senate — now 75, Hubley announced her mandatory retirement from the Red Chamber last Friday.

Hubley was appointed to the Senate in 2001 on the recommendation of then-prime minister Jean Chrétien. Before that, she spent two terms as an MLA for the Joe Ghiz Liberals beginning in 1989.

I don't think people follow what's happening in the Senate.— Libbe Hubley

"Certainly mixed emotions — on one hand, it's been an honour and a privilege to represent Prince Edward Island in the Senate and Canada, and on the other hand — I'm going to miss it, of course," Hubley told CBC Radio: Island Morning host Matt Rainnie of her retirement.

"It's been an interesting time."

'It's just overwhelming'

She laughs that when her appointment was announced, the Senate called her Elizabeth Hubley, when everyone on P.E.I. knew her by her nickname, Libbe.

Libbe Hubley was awarded Citizen of the Year in Kensington, P.E.I., on Canada Day by Malpeque MP Wayne Easter. (Libbe Hubley/Facebook)

"It's just overwhelming, the sense of responsibility that all of a sudden you feel upon your shoulders," she recalls feeling about her first trip to Ottawa to begin life as a senator.

"It was exciting but it was also scary," she laughed.

As senator, she championed literacy programs.

Low literacy levels in the Maritimes are "surprising in some cases," Hubley said. "It does not allow those individuals to be successful in today's society — there's a hindrance there.

Most things don't go through government quite as easy as the fiddle day went through.- Libbe Hubley

"It's important for our society to recognize that we may not be getting the best potential from our Islanders if we don't have programs that will fill some of the gaps."

She was also interested in the issue of reducing student debt, Hubley said.

"I think that in most times when the universities have come to Parliament Hill and they've lobbied both the senators and the MPs, that they've stressed that every time — just how difficult it is for some students to deal with the amount of student loans they have," she said.

'Such a joy'

Hubley was instrumental in establishing National Fiddling Day in 2015, something she reflects on fondly.

"It was such a joy to do it — most things don't go through government quite as easy as the fiddle day went through," she said. "It turned out to be a monumental pleaseure."

Usually in a Senate committee, witnesses testify by talking about what's important to them, Hubley explained.

But when looking to establish a day to recognize fiddling, people came from all over Canada to play their fiddles and describe the instrument's importance to their lives and culture.

As a result, fiddlers now visit Parliament Hill the third Saturday in May each year.

'It was difficult'

Hubley was a member of the chamber of sober second thought during a time that it was under the microscope — an expense scandal with fellow P.E.I. senator Mike Duffy at its epicentre. 

'We had a great and snowy morning meeting with Island students from Queen Charlotte,' Hubley wrote on Facebook in February 2017. (Libbe Hubley/Facebook)

"There was no question it was difficult," admits Hubley. "From where we stood, we saw the Senate as an important facet of our Canadian Parliament … we knew the importance of the work." 

Senators review legislation through several lenses, she explained — always asking themselves what their constituents would think, as well as Indigenous people or interest groups such as fishermen.

As a result they make suggestions or sometimes reject legislation — an important part of the legislative machine, she maintains.

"During this time, all this work went on just as it always had — but layered over it was this scrutiny and a lot of criticism of the Senate, that we had to accept," Hubley said.

"I don't think people follow what's happening in the Senate," she noted.

Hubley looks forward to spending more time on her passions of fiddling and stepdancing, she said, adding she'll enjoy less travel, fewer deadlines, and spending time with her large family on P.E.I.

"I have sort of energy that I still feel — I'm kind of a people person," she said. "There's lots of things that I can do, but there are a few personal things I'd like to do as well."

With files from CBC Radio: Island Morning