Senate salutes departing Speaker Noel Kinsella

The Senate bid farewell to retiring Speaker Noel Kinsella Wednesday afternoon, with tributes in the upper chamber. His likely successor is expected to be named soon: Pierre Claude Nolin.

New Brunswicker praised as 'brilliant, decent' and 'impeccably fair'

Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella will be feted by his Upper House colleagues this afternoon as he prepares to vacate his Senate seat two days before his 75th birthday, when his term was set to automatically expire. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

With his family watching from the public gallery, senators paid tribute to retiring Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella as he took the chair for the last time.

Senate Government Leader Claude Carignan referred to Kinsella as "an institution within our institution."

"Not only is he an undisputed authority in terms of his institutional memory, he is also, first and foremost, a great model as Speaker, as well as a model in his relations with the rest of the senators and the public at large."

'Impeccably fair'

Describing him as "a brilliant man, fair, disciplined and deeply human," Carignan noted that Kinsella's time as Speaker "was marked by all these wonderful qualities, and we are all the better for it."

Senate Liberal Leader James Cowan pointed out that Kinsella is currently the second-longest serving speaker in Senate history — and would have become the first if he'd stayed on another four months.

"Knowing Senator Kinsella's quiet competitive streak, perhaps this casts a slightly different light on why he has always adamantly opposed mandatory retirement," Cowan joked.

But, he noted, "the true measure is not how long a person served in a position, but how well, and on that measure, Senator Kinsella has few rivals."

Kinsella, he continued, has been "impeccably fair" in presiding over the Senate.

"Undoubtedly it was his time as Opposition Leader that led him to genuinely appreciate the fundamental importance of our rules in ensuring that both the government and the opposition are able to participate fully in our national proceedings," Cowan said.

"Only then can the Senate live up to its full potential."

Kinsella had similarly kind words for his colleagues.

"Thank you for the service that each and every one of you has been rendering to our great country, Canada," he told them.

"The work that each honourable senator has been doing, and continues to do, is good work," he added.

"Please remember that your vocation is a noble vocation."

Appointed by Mulroney

Kinsella, who was appointed to the Senate in 1990 on the recommendation of then-Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, has served as speaker since 2006.

His term was set to expire on November 28th — his 75th birthday — but he reportedly wants to retire before the clock runs out, and not be ejected automatically after aging out.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to announce Kinsella's successor — widely rumoured to be Conservative Senator Pierre Claude Nolin — later today.

Unlike the House of Commons, Senate speakers are not elected by fellow senators, but selected by the governor general based on the advice of the prime minister of the day.

Nolin has served as Speaker pro tempore, or deputy speaker, since 2013, when he was unanimously elected to the post.

Earlier this year, he publicly challenged his Red Chamber colleagues to take a  less partisan approach to their work.

"It's easier for a senator to do his job if he makes decisions less based on partisanship,” Nolin argued.

“Free choice for everyone is often a better guide.” 

Nolin favours legalizing pot

He also made headlines in 2002, when he served as chief spokesman for the Senate committee on illegal drugs, which called on Jean Chretien's Liberal government to legalize marijuana.

In 2012, his staunchly anti-prohibitionist views led him to oppose the Conservative government's omnibus crime bill, C-10,which included measures to impose lengthy minimum sentences for some drug-related crimes.

"Prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than the substance itself," he told his colleagues during debate on the bill. 

"I repeat: Prohibition of the substance is more harmful than the substance itself."

The only long-term solution, he argued, is to "get rid of prohibition."

"But that is not what we will do with Bill C-10," he noted. "At least use the short-term solution; do not touch it. Keep the status quo."

Meanwhile, Senate insiders predict that Conservative Senator Leo Housakos — like Nolin, a Quebecer — will likely take over as Speaker pro tempore.

On Tuesday, Auditor General Michael Ferguson told reporters his office's audit of Senate travel and living expense claims has finished gathering information from senators, but isn't yet complete. He said auditors are aiming for the first part of 2015, possibly finishing by the end of March.