I have to admit, I’m somewhat sympathetic to the plight of Senator Joyce Fairbairn, in much the same way as I’m sympathetic towards Chuck Strahl or Jack Layton. I’ve never liked the idea of a political career being cut short by the shortcomings and betrayals of one’s own body.
First, let’s look at the practical matter of the work she actually did during those four months, all right? We’re talking about the period from March until June of this year.
- In March, she only missed one sitting, for the 1st. Of the sittings where she was listed in attendance, she made no statements. On the 15th she voted against Bill C-33 (settling the Air Canada strike). On the 14th she was invited to a reception to meet the recipient of the Jim Travers Fellowship, by Senator Jim Munson; no idea if she attended. On the 28th, she was thanked by Senator Catherine Callbeck, for her work on government activities regarding literacy.
- The Senate only sat for seven days in April, and she missed none of them. On the 3rd, she hosted guests from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Quebec Farmers’ Association and L’Union des cultivateurs franco-ontariens, who appeared in the visitor’s gallery; she also voted against limiting debate on Bill C-19 (abolishing the long-gun registry). On the 4th, she voted against third reading of C-19. On the 24th, she supposed a failed amendment for Bill S-6 (First Nations elections).
- Of the 12 sitting days in May, she missed the last two, on the 30th and 31st. She made no statements and did not take part in any votes.
- In June, she missed sittings for the 11th and the 18th. On the 21st she voted against time allocation for bill C-38 (budget). On the 26th, she voted, twice, against time allocation for bill C-31 (amending the immigration system) and supported a failed amendment for same; when the bill passed the next day, she voted against it. On the 28th, she voted against time allocation on Bill C-38. On the 29th, she voted against bills C-23 (free trade between Canada and Jordon), C-38 and C-11 (copyright). In addition, she voted to support a failed amendment on the copyright bill. She made no statements.
The thing is, of the votes she attended, her absence would not have made a difference, since the government has a majority in the Senate and the vote margins weren’t even close. As for her not saying anything, well, it’s not really required — and what could she say that hasn’t already been said by her Senate colleagues?
Furthermore, Senator Fairbairn’s illness during the last session was at the stage where she still enjoyed moments of clarity and lucidity. If someone tried to prove that the Senator wasn’t lucid during her votes, they’d have an uphill battle — and, given the final vote margins, it wouldn’t be worth the effort.
But what about removing her from the Senator altogether? That’s definitely going to be a problem. The Senate can vote to remove members, but it’s never done so on the grounds of mental incapacity. And when you consider the collegial context of the Senate, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to move a motion to do so. The only motivation people would see for such a move would be public humiliation — and that isn’t something the Senator deserves. Not for something that she had no control over.
When Senator Fairbairn departs, let her depart with dignity and remember her for her fair career.