Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn to be absent amid reports of dementia

Senator Joyce Fairbairn is seen in an April 2007 file photo.

Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press

Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn won't return to the upper chamber "in the foreseeable future" because of health problems.

"She will not be in Ottawa for the September session," said Marc Roy, a spokesman for Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan. "Next steps will be determined based upon an evaluation of her health."

Mr. Roy declined to comment on the specific nature of the senator's health problems.

Story continues below advertisement

But Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, who chairs the Senate committee on the internal economy, said he received a letter last week explaining that the senator was living with Alzheimer's and had been found to be mentally incompetent. The letter was written by the senator's niece, Patricia McCullagh, who identified herself as one of Ms. Fairbairn's powers of attorney.

Ms. McCullagh wrote that her aunt would not be returning to the Senate in "the foreseeable future," Mr. Tkachuk said.

Reports on Monday suggested Ms. Fairbairn had been declared mentally incompetent in February, but continued to serve as a senator until the session ended in June.

Mr. Tkachuk said he and Senate Clerk Gary O'Brien have asked for documentation regarding Ms. Fairbairn's mental competency and sought legal advice on what – if anything – to do next. He said he isn't aware of any similar circumstances in the Senate and doesn't know if her powers of attorney would be permitted to make a decision on her behalf about her retirement.

Ms. Fairbairn, who will turn 73 this November, is two years away from the Senate's mandatory retirement age of 75. She grew up in Lethbridge, Alta., and worked in journalism before she was appointed to the Senate in 1984 by then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

She was an energetic and bright participant in Senate debates, Mr. Tkachuk said, adding, "Of course, as we would miss any senator, we'd miss her advice."

He said he's not in a rush to act on the letter.

Story continues below advertisement

"If anything is going to be done, it's going to be done with care," Mr. Tkachuk said. "My responsibility is to protect the institution, but at the same time have respect for the person who's affected by this thing."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Please note that our commenting partner Civil Comments is closing down. As such we will be implementing a new commenting partner in the coming weeks. As of December 20th, 2017 we will be shutting down commenting on all article pages across our site while we do the maintenance and updates. We understand that commenting is important to our audience and hope to have a technical solution in place January 2018.

Discussion loading… ✨