Independent or Partisan? The Future of the Canadian Senate

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Room 1009, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building
Dalhousie University, 6100 University Avenue, Halifax, NS
Facebook Event

In 2014, Justin Trudeau removed Liberal senators from the party’s caucus, creating independent senators. Three years after this decision, there are now over 40 independent senators and it is uncertain what the future of the Canadian Senate will look like. This discussion focuses on where the Senate is headed and possible options for the institution.

About the speakers

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard who was appointed to the Senate on November 10, 2016 is a highly regarded social worker, educator, researcher, community activist and advocate of social change.

In 2016, she was appointed Special Advisor on Diversity and Inclusiveness at Dalhousie University and is the first African Nova Scotian to hold a tenure track position.  Senator Bernard is a founding member of the Association of Black Social Workers who has also served as an expert witness in human rights cases and has received many honours for her work, including the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada.

Senator Bernard is a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry (AGFO), and the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights (RIDR). She is also Vice-Chair of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association.

The Honourable James Cowan

The Honourable James Cowan has considerable experience practicing law in Halifax and is a partner at Stewart McKelvey. He was actively engaged in the life of Dalhousie University for many years, including as Chair (2000–2008) of the University’s Board of Governors.

Mr. Cowan was appointed to the Senate in 2005 as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada. In the Senate he served as Opposition Whip, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Senate Liberal Caucus. He retired from the Senate in January 2017.

In May 2017, Mr. Cowan’s Bill S-201 to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination received Royal Assent and is now law.

Senator Thomas J. McInnis

The Honourable Thomas Johnson McInnis is a Senator for Nova Scotia. He holds a law degree from Dalhousie University. Senator McInnis was appointed to the Senate in September 2012. Prior to his appointment he was a career lawyer and had been involved in politics for many years in the province of Nova Scotia. He served as Minister of Transportation, Minister of Community Services, Attorney General, Minister of Labour, Minister of Industry and Deputy Premier of Nova Scotia.

Senator McInnis is currently the Chair of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Modernization. A Committee with the task of creating a more open, more inclusive and more effective Senate. The Committee published the first part of their report: Senate Modernization: Moving Forward Part I, in October 2016.


Senator Grant Mitchell

Senator Grant Mitchell is proud to represent Alberta as an Independent Senator. He has had careers in the public service, business and politics in Alberta, and was called to the Senate in 2005. In May 2016, he was appointed Government Liaison in the Senate where, as one of three members of the government representative team, he helps guide government legislation through the Upper Chamber whilst advocating for a transparent and accountable Senate that works for Canadians. He is an advocate for Senate modernization and takes a proactive role in contributing to Senate reform.

Lori Turnbull (Chair)

Associate Professor
Department of Political Science, Dalhousie University

About the series

Policy Matters is a weekly panel discussion on major policy issues presented by the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance and in collaboration with the Dalhousie School of Public Administration. Each discussion features thought leaders from civil society and focuses on one of the Institute's four research themes – Civic Engagement, Atlantic Canada and the World, Health Systems and Governance and Smart Infrastructure. Held each Tuesday from September 12 to November 14, the discussions take place in room 1009 of the Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building at Dalhousie, from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm. The events are designed to encourage public engagement with local, national and international policy issues and are open to the public.

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