Even with what appears to be an eternally optimistic outlook, Senator Doug Black acknowledges that while he has tried to bring Alberta’s point of view to Ottawa, he has found little success in changing federal energy policies.
The Alberta senator announced Wednesday that he would retire from the upper chamber at the end of October, capping off eight years where he has moved from longtime Tory to independent.
He is eligible to serve in the Senate until 2027, but has long talked about the importance of term limits and had promised to leave within a decade of being appointed.
In the past two years, a period where Alberta has had no MPs in the governing Liberal caucus, the lawyer-turned-politician said his presence has been important in making sure Prairie-focused issues are on the national agenda.
Mr. Black has championed issues such as mental health, rural and Indigenous community broadband, the oil and gas industry, and economic diversification for his home province.
“I feel I’ve done everything I possibly can. I have no gas left in the tank,” Mr. Black, 69, said in an interview.
“I just pushed as hard as I could for 10 years,” he added, including campaigning time in 2011 and 2012.
“I have huge energy and I’m going to continue on, hopefully making contributions in various places. But it’s time for somebody else to serve.”
Prior to being appointed as one of the province’s six senators, Mr. Black chaired the 2008 provincial campaign for the now defunct Alberta Progressive Conservative party, and had also been chairman of the University of Calgary’s board of governors. Mr. Black won Alberta’s April, 2012, Senate vote alongside Scott Tannas. But later that year, Mr. Black resigned as the university’s board chair after ineligible claims and other expenses came to light.
Both he and Mr. Tannas were appointed to the Senate by then-prime minister Stephen Harper in early 2013. Once appointed, Mr. Black said he made transparency a focus by posting both his attendance record and expenses.
Mr. Black said his resignation at this moment will bring more attention to a Senate vote being held in conjunction with Alberta municipal elections this October.
Early this summer, Premier Jason Kenney announced that Albertans will vote on three Senate nominees – one for each of the two vacancies, and one in case of an early retirement. But after that, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen as an Alberta senator – a decision that did not sit well with Mr. Kenney, who said the move “shows contempt for democratic decision-making, and for Alberta voters in particular.”
Senate elections might be a head-scratcher in many other parts of the country, but they have been part of Alberta’s political landscape since 1989. Designed to send a signal to Ottawa about provincial autonomy, western alienation, and the need for Senate reform, they are not seen as fully legitimate elections by critics, both within and outside the province.
However, Mr. Kenney is continuing in a line of Alberta premiers who have asked (all they can do is ask) Ottawa to respect the outcome of the Senate elections. And Mr. Black said senators who are elected have a singular legitimacy. He noted he’s a fan of Ms. Sorensen’s, “I’m just not a supporter of the process.”
His retirement announcement also comes what could be mere days before an expected federal election campaign call. Canada West Foundation chief executive Gary Mar said should Mr. Trudeau’s governing party succeed in winning the next federal vote, it’s most likely the prime minister will appoint whomever he wishes.
Mr. Mar said Mr. Black’s retirement is a loss for Alberta, especially in regards to the attention he tried to bring to Bill C-69, which overhauled how major Canadian energy projects get reviewed for their environmental, social and economic effects, and Bill C-48, a law that bars oil tankers from loading at ports on the northern coast of British Columbia. Political leaders in Alberta panned parts of both pieces of legislation for driving away investment in the country’s oil and gas sector, and other major infrastructure projects.
Mr. Black “fell short in terms of the ability to get amendments done but I still admire what he did and what he stood for,” said Mr. Mar, who was a cabinet minister and Alberta Progressive Conservative party leadership candidate before he headed the Calgary-based think-tank.
“Mostly he understood the potential of what the Senate could be.”
Mr. Black said his decision to retire prior to the federal campaign is also purposeful, so it’s clear to people that he didn’t leave owing to the outcome of that vote, one way or another. He faced criticism five years ago when he left the Conservative caucus to become a non-aligned members of the Red Chamber.
“I view myself as an independent Alberta senator,” he said on Wednesday.
No matter the issue, “there’s no doubt that I have been a ferocious defender of Alberta. Everybody knows that. So consequently, I’m not on everybody’s Christmas card list.”
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