Unemployment 'bleeding our children away,' novelist and new senator says
David Adams Richards won't be writing in new role as senator from New Brunswick but hopes to have influence
Novelist David Adams Richards has penned a list of issues he'd like to address during his time in the Senate, the biggest being jobs that will keep young people in New Brunswick.
Richards was appointed to the Senate at the end of August and plans to sit as an Independent.
In an interview this week, the Miramichi native described the province's unemployment as "the bleeding of our children away from our province because there's nothing here."
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"I don't know if you can rectify that in one lifetime. It certainly didn't take one lifetime to make it happen."
Richards said he supported the now-abandoned proposal for the Energy East pipeline from Alberta to Saint John, which he said would've helped build the New Brunswick economy.
"I was sad to see that go," he said.
Richards said subjects he's addressed in his writing can also be raised in the Senate: the decline of Atlantic salmon, over-fishing in certain areas, and the high illiteracy rate in the province. He also wants to see Indigenous people attend university in greater numbers.
You do these things really not expecting to be chosen.- David Adams Richards
"That has to be rectified in one way," said the 67-year-old.
"Can I do anything about it? I have no idea but I can certainly bring it up."
Richards, who has written about 30 books, described himself as a quiet type and called his new role a big step for him.
But he's enjoying the responsibility.
"It's strange because I've never met so many people in one room, in one day, that I say, 'Hello' to."
Sees reason to legalize pot
Legislation expected to come the Senate's way next year will be about the legalization of marijuana, which Richards said makes sense.
"It's not a gateway drug so much as it's a companion drug," he said. "It's a companion drug to every drink of booze any of my friends have ever had — those who'd actually toke."
Problems that flow from this combination of drinking and drug use would exist whether marijuana is legal or not, he said.
"The idea of legalizing it is, in some ways, trying to control it, trying to control the beast that's already out of the box. And that, in a way, does make sense to me."
Nudged to apply for Senate
Richards said he was reluctant to apply for a place in the Senate and didn't think the job was really for him.
But after a bit of a push from his wife, Peggy, he sent in his application.
Then he waited.
After eight months and eventually giving up hope, he got a call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office, asking for an interview, which Richards figured didn't go well.
"The next day the prime minister phoned me and asked me to go to the upper chamber," he said. "I was very shocked … you do these things really not expecting to be chosen."
A different kind of influence
Richards's many books include Crimes Against My Brother, Mercy Among the Children and Nights Below Station Street, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. He won the same award in the non-fiction category for Lines on the Water — A Fisherman's Life on the Miramichi.
He admits having a hard time wrapping his head around a senator's life but believes his new role offers a different kind of influence.
I'm a writer. You can't help being a writer.-David Adams Richards
"As slow as the political wheel grinds, it's still faster than the literary wheel," he said.
During the transition, Richards said, he's had great confidence in the people of the Senate, its influence across the country and its role in democracy, despite recent scandals involving the expenses of some members
"Although people think there's some definite flaws in it, i think it's something we should keep one way or another."
Richards won't be writing while he's in the Senate because he feels it wouldn't be proper, but he won't lose his identity as a writer.
"I'm a writer. You can't help being a writer."
With files from Harry Forestell