Edmonton

Edmontonians Paula Simons, Patti LaBoucane-Benson appointed to Senate

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed two Edmontonians, including journalist Paula Simons, to the Senate.

Journalist Paula Simons and University of Alberta lecturer Patti LaBoucane-Benson get the nod

Journalist Paula Simons and researcher Patti LaBoucane-Benson were named to the Senate Wednesday. (Facebook/YouTube)

Two Edmontonians, including journalist Paula Simons, have been appointed to the Senate, the Prime Minister's Office announced Wednesday.

Simons, a political columnist with the Edmonton Journal, has written on numerous topics including public transit, finance, Supreme Court rulings, international trade, the arts, and mental health.

"It's an extraordinary honour to be asked to do this," Simons told CBC's Radio Active on Wednesday.

She said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called her on Monday with the news.

Simons wrote a scathing column in 2013 about senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, "allegedly bending the rules" to serve their own interests.

"Small wonder many Canadians are wondering why we bother at all with an unelected upper house, full of entitled toffs who can't be turfed even if they break the law, even if they're not medically competent to hold office," she wrote.  

"Yes, there are earnest, hardworking, intelligent, thoughtful senators serving on committees, scrutinizing legislation, meeting with school kids, speaking to service clubs.

"But they've been so overshadowed in the public mind by the antics of the reprobates that it's hard for any senator to maintain public credibility."

Simons told CBC she believes the Senate should be full of people who are "not entitled" and who are held accountable for their actions.

"If I break rules, I think I should be kicked out of the Senate," she said Wednesday.

Simons has also worked as a producer with CBC Radio, both in Edmonton and Toronto, as a freelance magazine writer and as a political analyst.

The second appointee from the Edmonton area is Patti LaBoucane-Benson, who spent most of her career with Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

LaBoucane-Benson has dedicated her life to helping Indigenous families and worked to improve opportunities for vulnerable youth in Alberta, a statement from the Prime Minister's Office said.

Currently she is a lecturer with the University of Alberta executive education program and the Peter Lougheed Leadership College.

Over the past 15 years LaBoucane-Benson has been the director, executive producer and principal investigator for BearPaw Research, Training, and Communication, which educates Indigenous people of their legal rights and responsibilities in the justice system.

The third new face in the Senate is Peter Boehm of Ontario, a career diplomat who most recently served as the deputy minister for the G7 Summit and personal representative for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"These three new independent senators bring a wealth of experience with them to the Red Chamber," Trudeau said in a media statement.

"Whether working as a community educator and researcher, a journalist, or an ambassador, all three have gained a deep appreciation and understanding of this country."

All three were recommended by the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments. 

Trudeau has made 43 Senate appointments since becoming prime minister.

Like the other Trudeau appointees, each of the new picks is expected to sit as an Independent or non-affiliated senator — part of the prime minister's stated campaign to eliminate partisanship from the chamber over time.

Simons said she would not have considered becoming a senator had it been a partisan appointment.

"There won't be a caucus whip telling me how to vote," she said. 

"I hope to bring to the position the same independence and objectivity that I've brought to my journalism."

The Independent Senators Group now constitutes the largest bloc in the Senate and holds a plurality with 47 seats, followed by 31 Conservative senators and 11 Liberals.

There are still 10 senators who identify as Liberal, even though Trudeau brought official Senate affiliation with his party to an end while still in opposition. There are also eight non-affiliated senators and six empty seats.

In Calgary Wednesday, Alberta Official Opposition Leader Jason Kenney congratulated Simons and LaBoucane-Benson but said Trudeau should have appointed Mike Shaikh, who came third in Alberta's 2012 senate election vote.

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