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Journalist Paula Simons named to Senate of Canada

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Journalist Paula Simons, named yesterday as a member of the Canadian Senate for Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

I imagine most journos working nowadays for the moribund and increasingly far-right Postmedia newspaper chain daydream about making a miraculous escape from their travails -- perhaps a modest Lotto 6/49 win or a generous inheritance from a beloved auntie.

But you have to admit that Paula Simons, until now a city columnist for the Edmonton Journal who didn't have a topical beat so much as a deft ability to swiftly spin a literate and fervent crie de coeur from a current event, has just pulled off the slickest escape from the newspaper nightmare you've ever heard of.

Simons, 54, was named yesterday to the Senate of Canada, which it must be admitted is considerably better than most Canadian lottery prizes and, a case might be made, in some ways even superior to this Friday's $60-million Lotto Max, if slightly less remunerative.

After all, if you're a senator travelling in the United States, even a Canadian one who wasn't actually elected to anything, you can count on double-plus-first-class service from American hoteliers. (I have this on very good authority from, in fact, a member of the Red Chamber, which is so named for the upholstery therein, not the politics of the occupants.)

Moreover, as one of what she once called the "entitled toffs" in the Senate, Simons will have the opportunity to exert some sober second thought on the ill-considered legislation that frequently arrives from the House of Commons (official colour: green). In so doing, she can provide a valuable service to our country.

Even without Simons as a member, in reality the Canadian Senate has a pretty good historical record of doing just that, notwithstanding its well-known lack of democratic legitimacy.

Simons' economical Twitter autobiography says: "Globalist Presstitute. Ball Earther. So buxom, blithe, and debonair." I'm not going to make a case for or against that self-description. However, I'm thinking she might want to recast it that now that she's a member of an august and dignified legislative body and no longer part of the grubby newspaper trade of which she is a veteran of three decades, 23 years at the Journal. However, her Twitter handle -- @paulatics -- is probably still OK in her new role.

Simons' writing is persuasive, passionate and entertaining. Because of that, the silencing of her voice in journalism will be a loss to the commonweal. She is, in my estimation, a genuine progressive -- although as we all do, she has landed on the wrong side of an issue now and then. So her departure will likely leave Postmedia with no progressive voices in Alberta. (This is contingent, of course, on whom they replace her with, but given the corporation's recent track record, it's hard to be optimistic.)

She was always loyal to her newspaper, and frequently complained about bloggers who were, she felt, too hard on it. Well, loyalty is a virtue, so she is forgiven even though mistaken. I promise to take it much easier on the Senate than some writers. This is so even though the original purpose of the body was to look out for the interests of property, as if those with power and wealth didn't have enough advantages already without a whole legislative chamber devoted to placing roadblocks before the popular will.

Simons' appointment yesterday as an Alberta senator -- and that of Dr. Patti Laboucane-Benson, a Metis activist and academic -- may offer some evidence that the role of Parliament's Upper House is changing. The third senator appointed yesterday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to represent Ontario was Peter Boehm, a former senior federal civil servant and diplomat, for whom it might be harder to make such a case on the basis of his resume.

Given recent experience, some might argue appointing another journalist to the Senate is a recipe for grief.

In fact, however, there have been many journalists in the Senate over the decades, and for the most part they have served Canadians well. I give you, to name some though not all, Laurier Lapierre, Pat Carney, Joan Fraser, Jim Munson, Michael Grattan O'Leary and Richard Doyle.

So, when it comes to assigning the source of ethical lapses, it might be wiser to point to the prime minister who appointed Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin than to the occupation they once practiced.

If there's a complaint to be made about journalists in the Senate, it's that too many of them were political aides first, not that they're ethically unsuitable for a position of trust. This is not the case with Simons. She applied for the job to the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments set up by Trudeau and then left by him to do its work.

Anyway, to Paula Simons: The best of luck in your next endeavour. Never expense your holiday home to the Senate. Indeed, when in doubt, don't file an expense claim at all. And don't volunteer for a charity boxing match with the prime minister, no matter how worthy the cause.

Meanwhile, on the right, the usual stream of Trumpiness

The reaction of most Albertans to yesterday's Senate announcement was generous.

But over at United Conservative Party anti-social-media headquarters, Opposition Leader Jason Kenney continues to direct an unremitting stream of Trumpiness at Trudeau. Naturally, then, he started out with nothing good to say about the Senate appointments of Simons and Laboucane-Benson.

"Justin Trudeau has ignored the democratic choice of Albertans by appointing two unelected people to two Alberta Senate seats today," Kenney grumped, a reference to Alberta's periodic unconstitutional and wasteful "senator in waiting" elections.

As blogger Dave Cournoyer pointed out in a tweeted response to Kenney's churlish complaint, more than 189,000 "senator in waiting" ballots were rejected, spoiled or declined by voters in the 2012 exercise by the provincial Progressive Conservatives led by Premier Alison Redford. Significantly, that compared to a mere 7,822 in the same day's real provincial election.

Why? Cournoyer argued huge numbers of voters considered it a meaningless sideshow. Many, however, may have concluded it was something worse: an expensive attempt to distract voters from the multitude of sins of the then-40-year-old Tory dynasty. Anyway, only third-rate conservative candidates ran even half-hearted campaigns.

As for the Alberta-dominated Conservative federal government in which Kenney played a major role for a decade, it did nothing to change the structure of the Senate, barely even mentioning the topic during its interminable tenure. The provincial legislation under which the Senate elections were held expired in 2016.

After an hour, during which his sour grumbling had an opportunity to curdle in public, the Opposition leader finally got around to half-heartedly congratulating the two "thoughtful" Alberta Senate appointees.

Too late. Damage done.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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