Prime minister announces appointment of five new senators

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced the appointment of five new members of the Senate.

Quebec's getting three new senators, while Saskatchewan and Alberta get the other two

The Senate chamber in Ottawa pictured here on Sept. 23, 2020. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced the appointment of five new members of the Senate.

Michèle Audette, Amina Gerba and Clément Gignac will represent Quebec in the Red Chamber. David Arnot will represent Saskatchewan and Karen Sorensen will represent Alberta.

The Governor General appoints senators on the advice of the prime minister. All five senators will sit as independents, according to a news release from the Prime Minister's Office.

"All new Senators were recommended by the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments, and chosen using the merit-based process open to all Canadians," the release says. "This process ensures Senators are independent, reflect Canada's diversity, and are able to tackle the broad range of challenges and opportunities facing the country."

There are 105 seats in the Senate. These five appointments lower the number of vacant seats to 10.

New faces in the Red Chamber

Audette, who is from the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam in Quebec, was president of the Native Women's Association of Canada from 2012-15.

She was also one of five commissioners on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and also made an unsuccessful run for the Liberals in the 2015 federal election in the Montreal-area riding of Terrebonne.

In an interview with CBC Montreal, Audette said she's wanted to become a senator since she visited Parliament when she was 28 and president of Quebec Native Women.

"It started there. I said, 'If they have a little or a big power to change or refuse an amendment, or add something to improve our quality of life, I want to get there,'" she said.

Audette said she's looking forward to bringing her passion for politics and Indigenous affairs to the role.

"It's dear for me, being a woman, being an Indigenous woman ... This is where I was born and it's something I do every day — the justice, the equity, what can we do more to improve," she said.

"I'm a fighter — in a good way. I don't give up easily."

Gignac was a Liberal member of Quebec's National Assembly from 2009-12 and served in the provincial cabinet as minister of economic development, innovation and export trade, as well as minister of natural resources and wildlife. An economist, Gignac also worked in the federal Department of Finance as a special adviser to the deputy minister during the 2008-09 recession.

Gerba, an entrepreneur born in Cameroon, has worked to establish business and economic links between Canada and Africa. She has founded a number of businesses and is a member of the Canadian Council on Africa and the African Business Roundtable. Her companies selling personal care products employ thousands of women in Africa.

Arnot is the chief commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, a position he's held since 2009. He's also worked as a senior Crown prosecutor in Saskatchewan and as a judge on the provincial court. He's worked in the federal Department of Justice in a number of roles, including special adviser to the deputy minister of justice.

Sorensen is the mayor of Banff, Alta. and has had a long career in local politics. She's been a municipal councillor and school board trustee, and has worked in the hotel industry. 

"I am humbled and incredibly honoured to be appointed to the Canadian Senate. After 17 years being privileged to serve the people of Banff, I am exhilarated to have this amazing opportunity in service to Canada," Sorensen said in a news release.

She resigned from her position as mayor following the appointment, according to the release.

Alberta Premier Kenney unhappy with appointment

In a statement, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney criticized the Alberta appointment. His government had planned to hold elections to pick the province's Senate candidates in October.

Alberta has nominated senators based on elections in the past, including current Senators Doug Black and Scott Tannas.

"I personally informed [Trudeau] of our forthcoming Senate elections at our July 7 meeting in Calgary, and told him that the Alberta legislature had adopted a motion calling on the Prime Minister not to fill the two current Senate vacancies but to wait for Albertans to choose their own preferred Senate candidates," he said in a media statement.

"Sadly, the Prime Minister's decision to snub his nose at Alberta's democratic tradition is part of a pattern of flippantly disregarding our province's demands for a fair deal in the Canadian federation and the desire of Albertans for democratic accountability."

With files from Sharon Yonan-Renold

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