Former Alberta Senator Bert Brown dead at 79

The Alberta farmer's claim-to-fame was a stunt he pulled in 1984, when he plowed the message "Triple-E Senate or Else" into a neighbour's barley field.

Brown was an advocate for Senate reform

Senator Marjory LeBreton places the Senate pin on Bert Brown, as then-prime-minister Stephen Harper looks on during Brown's swearing-in ceremony in 2007. Brown was the first elected senator named to upper chamber by Harper and retired in 2013. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Former senator Bert Brown has died at age 79.

Senators were notified of their former colleague's death in an email from the deputy leader of the opposition in the Senate.

Brown was the only person who ran in all three of Alberta's provincial senatorial elections. He was the second person, after Stan Waters, to be appointed to the Senate after being listed as a "senator-in-waiting" and was a dogged advocate for Senate reform.

"Doggedness or determination was one of Bert's characteristics and I think it served him well," said Ted Morton, who was nominated alongside Brown as a senator-in-waiting by Alberta's Reform Party in 1998.

Senator Bert Brown goes door knocking for former prime minister Stephen Harper in Harper's Calgary riding in October 2008. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Morton said Brown was known for having a twinkle in his eye and a smile. 

"Bert had a very good sense of humour. He realized that while there was a great deal of support for this in Alberta and … he realized we were a bit of 'Don Quixote,' tilting at windmills."

Brown was appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper.

He served from 2007 until his mandatory retirement in 2013 at the age of 75.

When he retired, Senator James Cowan said in a tribute to Brown's career that his middle name was "Determination."

Farmer and advocate for senate reform

The Alberta farmer's claim-to-fame was a stunt he pulled in 1984, when he plowed the message "Triple-E Senate or Else" into a neighbour's barley field — which stood for an "elected, equal, effective" senate.

"He really gave three decades of his life to the Senate reform movement, and Albertans and western Canadians should remember him and appreciate that kind of commitment," Morton said. 

After retirement he lived in the hamlet of Kathyrn, Alta., with his wife Alice until her death in 2015.

Alice was a public figure in her own right. She received the Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Person's Case for her advocacy to recognise farm women as full working partners in their family farms. The couple were married for more than 50 years.

"Anybody who knows them knows they were a team. It was Alice and Bert," Morton said. 

Former Calgary city councillor Jim Stevenson tweeted his condolences.

"So sad to learn of the passing of a good friend, Senator Bert Brown. A wonderful man, a great senator and a visionary Canadian," he wrote.

Alberta Party leadership candidate Kara Levis also shared her condolences, calling the former senator a "towering figure in provincial and federal politics."

The Senate will have a moment of silence for Brown on Thursday.