Great Alberta Senators of the Past
Address to the Rotary Club of Edmonton
January 14, 1999
It is an honour to take my place among the 37 men and women who haverepresented Alberta within the Senate of Canada. My predecessors have madeinvaluable contributions to the well being of Alberta and Canada. Today Iwish to illustrate and pay tribute to this richness of service by talkingabout five great Alberta Senators of the past.The honour of being Alberta's first Senator belongs to Sir JamesAlexander Lougheed. He came to the West from Brampton, Ontario before theturn of the century as a pioneer lawyer in Calgary, and became a drivingforce in the development of the Alberta territory and its move toprovincehood in 1905. Sir James was called to the Senate in 1889, evenbefore Alberta was a province, from what was then the North West Territory.He was to become one of the earliest and greatest proponents of Westernrights in Confederation.
Sir James played a leading role in the Red Chamber for over twodecades, and his life and dedication to Alberta and to Canada are an objectlesson for all who serve in public life. Sir James grew with Alberta;through him, Alberta grew, and he knew the wishes and aspirations of theWest as few politicians have known it.Wealthy and influential, he contributed mightily to Calgary's economicand cultural development. There, Sir James built the Sherman Grand Theatrein 1911. It opened in 1912 with a reading from actress Sarah Bernhardt anda tap dance performance by a 12-year old named Frederick Austerlitz, wholater became world famous as Fred Astaire.
Today, a petition circulates in order to save this heritage site fromdemolition. Peter Lougheed, grandson of Sir James and former Albertapremier, has added his name. For Peter made the building his base afterbeing elected leader of the Provincial Progressive Conservatives.Sir James proclaimed in the Senate, regarding the Province of AlbertaAutonomy Bill, "that the people of the new province had the right to expectnothing less than equality and parity with the other provinces of ourconfederation." Sir James would not accept what he called imperfect orincomplete provincehood. He foresaw the day when Alberta would "occupy a more important position numerically, commercially and in many otherrespects than any other of the provinces of Canada."
From the floor of the Senate, Sir James claimed that "if anything iscalculated to make the western provinces great, it must necessarily be thepower to develop the natural resources within their boundaries." WhenOttawa attempted to retain Alberta's resources upon entering intoConfederation, Sir James, then Senator-Minister in the Borden government,took up the cudgels for Alberta. He insisted that all provinces be treatedequally according to the same rules, a sentiment that resounds in ourprovince today.
By 1930, when his aspirations posthumously reached fruition, and theprovince's resources were transferred from central control, it was clearthat Alberta could no longer be treated as a young and immature province.>From the transformation of the territory's landscape with railroads and itsplace in Confederation, Alberta had truly come of age under this greatfigure.
For his service to Canada, Sir James was honoured with a knighthood byKing George V in 1916 as a Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St.George. Three years after his death in 1925, a mountain near Calgary wasnamed after him.A man of ideals, William Ashbury Buchanan was also a truly greatCanadian, serving community, province and country. His desire as a Senator-- he served from September 1925 to July 1954 -- was to articulate theinterests of community and province, relating them to the wider world ofCanada. He served them all with considerable distinction.
Journalism was his life. He devoted time and energy to establishingthe Lethbridge Herald, the community newspaper of his dreams."Give the Senate more to do," Senator Buchanan urged, spurning thesuggestion that it had become the rest home for politicians who had seenbetter days. He pointed to the claim that with its calm judgement andunhurried consideration of public business, specifically its stand onwestern freight rates when the rate structure was threatened, it had saved theprairie farmers a sum equal to an amount required to run the Senate for ahundred years.
Important lessons are to be drawn from the political career of thisimpressive leader who represented Southern Alberta's interests in Ottawa asan M.P. and Cabinet Minister and then as a Senator. Senator Buchananbelieved in the Senate and its place as a balance wheel in Canada'sparliamentary system. While he stood for Senate reform, he recognized thatdespite the importance of the issue, it was not to be pursued for partisanand regional interests.
Although a veritable champion of the West, he disapproved ofsectionalism, and never allowed sentiment to becloud his conviction thatlegislation should be in the interests of Canada as a whole and not simplyone section of the country. His outlook was always "Canada first." Thisforthright attitude on questions of public importance was ever-present inthe Senate. He spoke for justice and called for Senate reform from thefloor of that very chamber.In this vein, Alberta has fostered a great legacy in its devotion toSenate reform and Constitutional development. Our province has long takenits rightful place shaping the constitutional direction of the country.A remarkable part of this indispensable legacy was the work, thegroundbreaking ideas, and boundless energy of Harry William Hays, head ofyet another of Alberta's political families.
By any standard, Senator Hays was a great Westerner and Albertan whopersonally developed the first Canadian pure-bred beef breed and exportedCanadian livestock to more than a dozen countries. But no work he didoffered more absorbing challenges than politics because, according to him,it covered the entire scope of human activities and interests.
As Minister of Agriculture, a post to which one may well say he cameto naturally, Minister Hays conceived both the National Dairy Commission anda nation-wide crop insurance program that would help make Canadian farmersfrom all over the country much more financially secure. He soughtinnovation and growth in federal politics and left a lasting impact onCanadian agriculture. His son Daniel, now an Albertan Senator himself,continues this devotion to Canadian farmers as a member of the StandingSenate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
The senior Hays served Canada in public affairs for almost twentyyears, as one of its most active Senators from February 1966 until May 1982.Harry William Hays is honoured for the greatest of his contributions to thenation: as the sensitive co-chairman of the Special Joint Senate-CommonsConstitution Committee established in 1980. This would be his consummatepolitical experience.
"This experience," wrote his biographer Don Peacock, "was a profoundrounding-out of Senator Hays' discovery of the true nature of Canada and thetrue nature of Canadians' deepest personal interests. The experiencepermanently changed him in a fundamental way, as the dimensions ofCanadianism in his personal perception were irreversibly expanded."
His conviction and concern in the matter of repatriating theconstitution were unequivocal. He was instrumental in the fundamentaldilution of the Senate's absolute veto over any legislation forwarded by theHouse of Commons, a power and privilege that had been enjoyed by the UpperHouse since Confederation.
Senator Hays worked for Senate reform from within, and indeed soughtthat it be more effective with this reduction of its parliamentary might.Yet his endeavours in the matter of constitutional reform proved to be themost turbulent in his long career serving Calgarians, Albertans andCanadians. Senator Harry Hays was not without his critics. "Hopefully," heonce said, "we will do as good a job as Sir John A. Macdonald and his peopledid so long ago."
Of his political life, he noted: "Publicly the road is always rough,or you are just a rubber stamp."Albertans expect high standards of public service from theirpoliticians. There is, in Alberta's political discourse of today, littletolerance for anything less than rectitude in the conduct of Alberta'saffairs and the articulation of its interests. This is personified inErnest Charles Manning, a man of purpose and integrity who shaped the modernhistory of the province. Alberta and Canada are far better for hisinvaluable service and enlightened leadership.
As one of Canada's most effective provincial leaders from 1943 until1968, Ernest Manning led Alberta from the lingering devastation of the GreatDepression to the unparalleled prosperity of the post-war oil boom. Hesubstantially improved the provincial infrastructure as well as its socialand cultural institutions, building more and better schools, hospitals andnew universities, transforming Alberta into the confident, dynamic andprosperous province that it is today. He was rightly called, in a CalgaryHerald obituary, the "Father of Alberta." Through his inspired leadership,Alberta again came of age.
As a Senator from October 1970 until September 1983, his goal was toimprove the representation of the regions, particularly the West, in thecouncils of central government. His conception was of the development of anUpper House with good democratic credentials, where Outer Canada heldgenuine influence at the centre of power. This would, he believed, be abalance to a House of Commons inevitably dominated by Central Canada.In Senator Manning, Alberta's tradition of seeking Senate reform foundgreat vigour and determination. He remained devoted to strengthening thecountry's institutional capacity to accommodate regional differences. Thislegacy and such endeavours have been passed down to his son, the HonourablePreston Manning, Leader of the Reform Party. The efforts of his father canbe seen in a central theme of the party, with the slogan: "The West WantsIn!"
"As senators," Ernest Manning once said, "we occupy a position uniquelydifferent from that of the elected members of the other house. Weconstitute more than a chamber of sober second thought. We have beenappointed to represent our respective provinces in this house. We have beenselected in order to provide the necessary checks and balances on aparliamentary structure where representation by population results inimbalances that invite the kind of abuse of parliamentary majority powerthat we are witnessing today."Alberta has always meaningfully contributed to the progression ofSenate reform in order that it effectively respond to the needs of Canadiansociety. Indeed, landmark accomplishments with enormous and continuingsignificance have been achieved from the endeavours of ordinary Albertansthemselves.
Five brave and courageous Albertan women took on the Supreme Court ofCanada and won a place for their own within the walls of the Senate. In1928, the Court ruled that women were not eligible to become senatorsbecause they were not "persons" within the meaning of the sections of theBritish North America Act governing Senate appointments. Immediately,Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy andIrene Parlby persuaded the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council inEngland, then Canada's highest court, to overturn the decision. The PrivyCouncil did so in 1929, finding women "fit and qualified."
As a result of this great action, the Canadian government promptlyappointed Cairine Wilson of Ontario to the Senate in 1930. This signified avictory not only for women but for the ideal of Senate reform.Nevertheless, another 50 years would pass before Alberta would haveits first woman Senator. Martha Bielish, with a portrait of the "FamousFive" proudly hung in her office, and having earlier petitioned for theappointment of an Albertan woman to the Senate, would take her place inhistory as Alberta's inheritor of the great "Persons Case" victory. In1979, she became the sixth name on that historic list symbolizing, at longlast, the completion of an earlier dream in the province where it allstarted.
Before her retirement, Senator Bielish was a leader in provincial andnational organizations of women's institutes and in the Associated CountryWomen of the World. She was also the president of the Federated Women'sInstitutes of Canada, a post first held by Emily Murphy of the "Famous FiveSuffragettes." As a Senator, she believed "the fight had to be carried onto establish women as full and equal partners with men in the economy,politics and elsewhere." She considered her appointment to the Senate areminder, to a mostly male parliament, of a "momentous" event in Canadianhistory whose full effects have not yet been felt.
Senator Bielish is herself a pioneer of the women's movement, and theAlberta Women's Institute named her Woman of the Year in 1975. She has anhonorary doctorate and travelled throughout the world as a member of theInternational Association of Country Women. Her involvement ininternational organizations took her to Ireland and Kenya; she representedCanada in Mexico at the International Parliamentary Assembly on Populationand Development in 1984 and in Brazil two years before that.
Of the Senate, she said "I think any institution is what you make outof it, and since the Senate is the way that it is today, I'm going to bepositive and work hard until the day changes are made."In paying tribute today to the integrity and accomplishments of fivegreat Alberta Senators along with the five courageous women of the past, Iam both inspired and strengthened by their accomplishments. In the spiritof my predecessors, I recommit myself to Senate reform, and meeting thechallenges of today.
I have made it my own objective, as an Independent Alberta Senator, tocontinue this process and strive to live up to this vast legacy. I want thepeople and the governments of Canada to work and grow together.I want to contribute to a spirit of reconciliation, an atmosphere ofhealing, a new basis for hope, as Alberta and Canada prepare to enter theThird Millennium.