Senate appointees include Habs ex-coach, journalist

Former NHL coach Jacques Demers, who in 2005 revealed he had hidden his struggle with illiteracy, journalist Linda Frum Sokolowski and Tory loyalists were among a slate of Senate appointees announced Thursday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper shakes hands with former NHL coach Jacques Demers who was appointed to the Senate on Thursday. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press) )

Former NHL coach Jacques Demers, who in 2005 revealed he had hidden his struggle with illiteracy, journalist Linda Frum Sokolowski and Tory loyalists were among a slate of Senate appointees announced Thursday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper named nine new members to the upper chamber.

Demers, who led the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup in 1993, has been working as an analyst for the sports network RDS, which announced Demers's Senate appointment on its website.

"I've worked so hard these last four years to improve my reading and writing. All of a sudden, they name me senator. It's just incredible," Demers, 65, said.

In 2005, Demers released his biography, admitting he had spent 15 years in the NHL as a head coach and general manager and never knew how to read or write.

Journalist Linda Frum Sokolowski has also been appointed to the Senate. (Prime Minister's Office)

He said his illiteracy is due to his impoverished childhood, during which his father beat and psychologically abused him and his mother.

Demers described how he finessed his way through most of his dealings by getting secretaries and media relations people to pen his correspondence for him.

Since his admission, Demers has learned to read and can easily go through hockey stories in newspapers, for instance, The Canadian Press reported.

"I hope I can serve as an example to people who face a lot of struggles."

From 1998 to 2007, Frum Sokolowski worked as a feature columnist for the National Post, and was also a contributing editor to Maclean's Magazine.

The daughter of CBC broadcaster Barbara Frum, she gained fame with her 1987 best-selling book Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities. She also wrote a book about her mother. 

Other Senate appointees include:

  • Doug Finley, the main strategist for the Conservatives through four general elections.
  • Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, a senior adviser to Harper for about seven years.
  • Don Plett, the current president of the Conservative party.
  • Kelvin K. Ogilvie, past president of Acadia University.
  • Former N.W.T. premier Dennis Patterson.
  • Tory organizer Judith Seidman.
  • Lawyer Claude Carignan, a founding member of the Action démocratique du Québec party who ran unsuccessfully for the Tories in October 2008 and is the mayor of Saint-Eustache, Que.


2nd round of appointments

There were nine vacancies in the Senate — three in Quebec, two in Ontario, and one each in Nunavut, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

The move marks the second round of appointments Harper has made to the upper house in less than a year.

In December, former broadcaster Pamela Wallin, Olympic icon Nancy Greene Raine and broadcaster Mike Duffy were among 18 named as senators.

Harper has been accused of hypocrisy for his Senate appointments. In the past, he has called for senators to be elected, rather than appointed by the prime minister as is the current practice, or for the body to be abolished if changes couldn't be made.

But on Thursday, while not confirming the appointments, Harper defended his actions, saying he's waiting for the provinces to hold elections for senators.

"I’m willing to appoint elected senators, but so far only one province has held an election and that’s Alberta," Harper said in Quebec.

"Until senators are elected, this government will ensure that we have in the Senate people who will work hard and will support the elected government of this country. And that includes passing our anti-crime legislation and passing our democratic reforms which have been blocked in the Senate."

With files from The Canadian Press