Trudeau names 2 new senators, including Canada's 1st female Indigenous dentist

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed two new Independent senators to the upper chamber. Mary Coyle will sit for Nova Scotia and Mary Jane McCallum will represent Manitoba.

New appointments bring the Red Chamber closer to gender parity

Mary Coyle, left, will be appointed to the Senate representing Nova Scotia and Dr. Mary Jane McCallum, right, will represent Manitoba. (Riley Smith/Prime Minister's Office)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has named two new Independent senators to sit in the upper chamber.

Mary Coyle, 63, will sit for Nova Scotia and Mary Jane McCallum, 65, will represent Manitoba.

McCallum, who is of Cree descent and a survivor of the Indian residential school system, is believed to be the first female Indigenous dentist accredited in Canada.

She has worked throughout Manitoba's north for decades — she obtained her dental nursing certificate in 1977, and later her doctorate in dental medicine in 1990 — and still runs a practice on Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas. In addition to her private practice, McCallum has worked with the federal First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, and helped lead the Aboriginal Dental Health Program at the University of Manitoba.

McCallum is set to become a parliamentarian as Health Canada faces criticism for its handling of the dental file. The auditor general has raised alarm bells about the provision of dental services to First Nations peoples, finding the department does "not know how much of a difference it was making" despite its annual budget of $200 million. Unlike other Canadians, First Nations health care, including oral health, is largely the responsibility of the federal government.

CBC News has also profiled the struggles of a young Cree girl who has taken the government to court to secure payment for braces her doctors say are medically necessary. The government has spent some $110,000 in court fighting the $6,000 procedure.

According to a written statement distributed by the Prime Minister's Office, Coyle is a long-time champion of women's leadership, gender equality, and the rights of Indigenous people.

Since 1997, she has held a number of leadership positions at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., where she served as executive director of the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership, a group devoted to helping students "to dream big, to make a positive difference in the world, and to learn to work with others to make things happen."

Coyle also helped launch the university's Coady International Centre for Women's Leadership, which is devoted to bolstering the place of women in civil society in the global south.

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

"If you really want to change the world, you have to look at what hasn't happened yet, and one of the things that hasn't happened yet is women in significant numbers in significant ways moving into leadership positions at all levels," she told the local newspaper after receiving an award for her work with the centre.

She has worked abroad in rural development, and helped with the creation of the world's first micro financing bank, BancoSol, in Bolivia, and the establishment of the First Peoples Fund, which provides micro loans to First Nations and Métis communities in Canada.

"I am pleased to welcome Parliament's newest independent senators. Ms. Coyle and Dr. McCallum have already built legacies in their respective fields, and I trust that they will represent their regions well while bringing the depth of experience and knowledge needed to serve in the best interest of all Canadians," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement announcing his picks.

After these two appointments, Trudeau will have named 30 senators to the Red Chamber. These two women are expected to sit as Independents — as all of the prime minister's other appointments have opted to do thus far.

The Independent Senators Group has a plurality in the Senate with 39 seats followed closely by 34 Conservative senators and 15 Liberals. After today, there are still 11 vacancies to be filled in the 105-member body.

The new additions also bring the Red Chamber closer to gender parity as some 46 per cent of senators (43 of 94) will be women. Calls for gender balance in the Senate came shortly after Trudeau unveiled a cabinet with an equal number of women and men.


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