Politics

Trudeau names Giller Prize-winning novelist David Adams Richards to Senate

Celebrated Canadian novelist David Adams Richards has been appointed to the Senate, the Prime Minister's Office says.

PM's 29th pick for Red Chamber received Governor General's Awards for non-fiction and fiction works

Award-winning author David Adams Richards has been appointed to the Senate to represent New Brunswick. (Doubleday Canada)

Celebrated Canadian novelist David Adams Richards has been appointed to the Senate, the Prime Minister's Office said Wednesday.

Richards will represent New Brunswick in the Red Chamber.

Richards has penned a number of bestselling books, and is one of only a handful of authors who has received a Governor General's Award in both the non-fiction and fiction categories.

He was a co-winner of the 2000 Giller Prize for his novel Mercy Among the Children, and has received a number of other prestigious awards, including two Geminis for script writing.

"I've written 30, 31 books and I would like to do something else. I think I might be able to offer something. I was asked by friends to apply and I said, 'Well, OK. I'll do this and see what happens.' I didn't think I'd be selected, but I'm so very grateful and honoured that I was," Richards said in an interview with CBC News.

"Hopefully I can be a voice for some of the things that are happening in New Brunswick; I've always done that in my work."

Authors Michael Ondaatje, left, and David Adams Richards, co-winners of the 2000 Giller Prize, pose for the media during a ceremony in Toronto Thursday, Nov. 2, 2000. Ondaatje won for his novel Anil's Ghost, and Adams Richard for his novel, Mercy Among the Children. (Tannis Toohey/Canadian Press)

Richards has written extensively about his love of hunting and fly fishing on the Miramichi River. The angler has not hidden his disdain for urban progressives who thumb their noses at rural life.

"Progressive is such a damnable word," Richards said in the prologue of his book Facing the Hunter. "Most of the people determined to align rifles with murder and thugs have never handled rifles — and don't know the difference between them."

Asked about those remarks Wednesday, Richards said he was speaking of an urban-rural divide in the country. "In so many ways people who don't know the world think they can tell others what to do. I've been told all my life in cities in Canada that hunting is a bad thing. There's a lot of misunderstanding there."

His 2010 national bestseller God Is is about his search for God and his sometimes rocky relationship with organized religion.

Senate-nominee Richards joins Piya Chattopadhyay to discuss what he brings to the Red Chamber 5:56

"It is a book that simply states God is present, and always was and will be whether we say we have faith or not, whether we observe His presence or scorn His presence," he wrote in the introduction.

He has also written a non-fiction book, Hockey Dreams, on the place of hockey in the Canadian soul.

A voice for supporting the arts

Richards has been lauded as "one of the most distinct and compelling voices in contemporary literature." Many of his novels focus on betrayal, murder, adultery, corporate malfeasance and government corruption.

Richards has also been a vocal advocate for the arts, wading into the 2010 New Brunswick election to urge candidates to promise more financial support.

"They are the only ones who can tell the truth about us. And there is a terrible and essential and poignant reason why we must seek to tell this truth. In telling the truth about ourselves, we alone can give justice to our people and our province, to the work that we do and the lives that we live," he said of writers and artists in an op-ed published by CBC.

The Fredericton-based author was chosen by the prime minister's new independent, merit-based appointments process, which was set up shortly after the Liberal government took office.

Richards is Trudeau's 29th pick for the Senate.

"I am extremely — extremely — proud to have asked Mr. Richards to serve in the Senate of Canada. He is someone who is well known to us all as a novelist, an essayist, a poet, who has done an extraordinary job of telling the stories of the Miramichi River valley, of New Brunswick, and indeed of Canada, to Canadians and the world," Trudeau told reporters Wednesday during a visit to the province.

PM Justin Trudeau congratulates New Brunswick novelist David Adams Richards following his appointment to the Senate. 1:28

"His dedication to the arts, his love of place and country, will be an extraordinary asset to the independent thinkers in the Senate," he said.

Like his predecessors, Richards is expected to sit as an Independent outside of the Senate Liberal caucus.

"I'm sitting as an independent man. I'll make my own decisions to the best of my ability when I'm in the chamber," he said. He did, however, voice support for the government's pledge to legalize marijuana while noting he himself has never smoked the drug. "It's not going to be me who stops them," he said.

As third-party leader, Trudeau removed all Liberal senators from the national caucus at the height of the Senate expenses scandal in 2014.

The prime minister reiterated Wednesday that these changes are designed to restore the confidence of Canadians in the Senate and to "demonstrate it can be a place of sober second thought that improves the quality of work done by our parliamentary instiutions."

After Richards' appointment, there are still eight Senate seats to fill with two additional vacancies coming in quick succession after the retirement of Liberal senators Libbe Hubley and George Baker in September. Independent members are expected to form a plurality in the Senate after the next round of appointments.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, a Liberal, welcomed the prime minister's pick, celebrating the writer as a pillar of the province's literary scene.

"His unique experiences and perspective will be an asset to the Canadian Senate. He will no doubt be a great advocate for education, literacy and the arts as he takes on this important new role," Gallant said.

"We look forward to working with Mr. Richards and other New Brunswick senators to support families, grow the economy and move New Brunswick forward."

A tweet from the Giller Prize's Twitter account also congratulated Richards on the appointment.

Novelist and new Senator David Adams Richards talks about what matters to him and what he hopes to get done as a Senator for the Canadian government. 0:58

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

With files from the CBC's Power & Politics

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