Nova Scotia's newest senator ready to bring her 'highly consultative' approach to Ottawa

Mary Coyle, who worked at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., for many years, is Nova Scotia's newest senator.

Coyle worked at St. F.X. for nearly two decades with focus on international development, equity and leadership

Mary Coyle said the well wishes that have poured in have been "overwhelming actually and really very kind.” (Riley Smith Photograph/Facebook)

Mary Coyle, an educator and administrator known for her work in community and international development, says she'll handle her new role as senator with the same "highly consultative" approach she's brought to her career. 

Coyle was appointed to the Senate on Monday as an independent representing Nova Scotia, joining Wanda Thomas Bernard and Dan Christmas, who were appointed last fall. 

The statement sent out by the prime minister's office describes her as a "longtime champion for women's leadership, gender equality and the rights of Indigenous Peoples." 

Coyle began working at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., in 1997 serving as vice-president and director of the Coady International Institute, which she helped expand to include programming for women, youth and Indigenous people.

"It's humbling, it's an honour, and it's an enormous responsibility, and at the same time I see it as a wonderful opportunity," said Coyle in an interview Tuesday. 

Mary Jane McCallum of Manitoba was also appointed to the Red Chamber this week, bringing it closer to gender parity, as about 46 per cent of senators are now women.

Coyle got the call from Justin Trudeau Saturday evening, and the official statement was sent out while she was flying to Ottawa from Halifax. By the time she landed, her "text messaging was going crazy."

"I have right now close to 400 unanswered emails. I'm very sorry for anybody who's emailed me and I haven't been able to email them back," she said with a laugh. 

Fought for Indigenous, women's rights

For the last three years, Coyle was the executive director of the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership, which is focused on developing leadership in public policy, business and health.  

Prior to her work at St. F.X., Coyle spent a decade as the executive director of Calmeadow, a Canadian non-government organization, where she helped establish the first microfinance bank in Bolivia and the First People Fund, which provides micro loans to Canadian First Nations and Métis communities. 

Mary Coyle with two of her daughters, Lauren (left) and Emilie (right) at a 2012 event in Halifax. (Riley Smith Photography/Facebook)

Coyle helped create the Stephen Lewis Foundation, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative and the Indian School of Microfinance for Women. 

She also holds an undergraduate and graduate degree from the University of Guelph and a French language diploma from the Université de Besançon​ in France. 

Won't be doing it alone

Coyle said she's going to take some time before deciding what to focus her attention on while a member of the Senate. 

Her first task, she said, is to listen and learn. 

"I won't in any way be in this on my own," said Coyle. "All of those people are going to be part of this. That's just how I operate, and I'll be calling on people for advice and guidance."

Because senators can hold the position until age 75, Coyle said she has 12 years — "an absolutely perfect length of time" — to make a difference.

"As our world changes, and as our country changes, and our region changes, there's so much to be done, and we can't even fathom today what's coming five years down the road," she said. 

With files from Jerry West and Elizabeth McMillan