On Wednesday, three new senators were announced and one of them is long-time Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons.
She found out officially just two days earlier.
“I got the phone call from the prime minister on Monday,” Simons told Global News. “That was surreal.
“I’m still kind of shaking… I’ve been a journalist my entire adult life — for 30 years — and thinking of myself as anything other than a journalist is taking a moment.”
She calls the upcoming change bittersweet.
“I love my work as a journalist. I’ve loved my time at the Edmonton Journal and to me, switching from journalism to politics is going to be a difficult transition.”
LISTEN BELOW: Paula Simons speaks with Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED
Still, she said she was “cheered” that at least the initial reaction — from all sides of the political spectrum — has been positive.
“There are people who don’t favour an appointed Senate — there are people who want an elected Senate, so they’re not happy to see anyone appointed. And, of course, there are people — because I’ve been very outspoken in my column over the years — who are not particular fans of me or my political perspectives,” Simons said.
“But on the whole, I have to say I’ve been really touched and overwhelmed with the extraordinary outpouring of people who have congratulated me… wished me well.”
“I will be sitting as an independent senator; not as a Liberal independent senator,” Simons said.
“I intend to guard that independence quite zealously. I won’t be voting party lines. I will be taking my journalistic skills, looking at every piece of legislation that comes before us, and giving it the kind of analysis that I would have done in the newsroom to make sure that the consequences of that legislation would be the best ones possible for all Canadians, but especially for Albertans.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Governor General had appointed two other independent senators to fill vacancies left in the Senate.
Patti LaBouncane-Benson, also from Alberta; and Peter Boehm from Ontario were also selected.
LaBoucane-Benson is described as a “proud Métis who has dedicated her life to helping Indigenous families.” She is director of research at the Native Counselling Services of Alberta. A key focus of her work has been to increase Indigenous Peoples’ awareness of their legal rights and responsibilities.
Boehm has had an extensive career in the foreign service and most recently served as deputy minister for the G7 Summit and personal representative of the prime minister, the PM’s office said in a news release.
Boehm retired from the public service just last month after a career that included organizing international events and being the senior official in charge of the annual North American Leaders’ Summit.
Simons is an award-winning journalist and author, based in Edmonton, who has covered everything from international trade and mental health to Alberta history.
She said someone she respected asked her to consider applying for the Senate seat.
“My first reaction was to laugh out loud… But then I started talking to people and thought, ‘I guess I could apply.'”
Then, Simons said, as the process advanced and became more feasible, she had to wrap her mind around the fact that it might actually happen.
“I felt like the dog that chased the car and actually caught it,” she said with a chuckle.
LISTEN: Paula Simons joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss her new role in Canada’s senate
Simons vows to stay as open-minded as possible in her new position. She’ll continue calling Edmonton home and will fly to Ottawa when needed.
“I’m very excited,” she said, “to advocate for Edmonton and Alberta.
“For 30 years, I’ve been holding governments to account, I’ve been doing public policy analysis, I’ve been reading government bills and papers. I think those skills will be directly transferable.
“Goodness knows all kinds of mayors, premiers and prime ministers have had to put up with my advice, unasked for, so it might be kind of nice that people actually solicit my point of view about things,” Simons said with a smile.
She hopes the trust she’s gained from her readers will be affirmed in this new responsibility.
Another goal? “Working hard to keep the Senate relevant for the 21st Century.”
In a statement, Trudeau said the three appointees “have gained a deep appreciation and understanding of this country” through their work.
The appointments bring to 43 the number of senators named to the upper chamber by Trudeau.
The Liberals changed the process for Senate appointments after coming to office and now require prospective senators to apply for the position and be vetted by an outside panel. The final decision about who to name to the upper chamber rests with the government.
“I don’t think I would have been comfortable, as a working journalist, taking a patronage appointment directly from the prime minister,” Simons said of the new selection process. “To me, it mattered that there’s this independent, arms-length body.”
— With files from The Canadian Press