Senator Fairbairn’s situation


Don Martin considers Senator Fairbairn’s situation.

Only now is bear-witness evidence surfacing that her sad condition should not have surprised anyone. One Conservative MP confides she found Sen. Fairbairn wandering Ottawa’s downtown Sparks Street in a disoriented haze and had to be guided to her residence. Another found her unescorted in the Ottawa airport, unsure how to get downtown. A political staffer says he found Fairbairn seated in the Senate foyer with no idea what she was doing there … While one insider suggests she might have been declared mentally incompetent later than February, there’s enough anecdotal evidence to suggest Fairbairn was in mental distress last spring.

Stephen Maher adds his perspective.

A year ago Wednesday, the Ottawa Citizen got a tip suggesting that Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn was not well enough to do her job. Reporter Glen McGregor asked the Liberals in the Senate, who told him that she was fine. Last week, he learned that she had been diagnosed with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. He informed the Liberals of that, after which they announced that she would go on sick leave for her final two years in the Senate. It is likely that McGregor’s questions prompted the Liberals to take action, months after her tragic condition had become apparent to people who met her casually.

Leslie MacKinnon asks the obvious question.

It’s a question Conservative Senator David Tkachuk asks: why doesn’t Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn just retire? … But Fairbairn is resisting resigning, says Marc Roy, a spokesman for Senator Jim Cowan, the Opposition Leader in the Senate. “The next step will be determined by the evolution of Fairbairn’s medical condition.” Fairbairn was at the “Whoop Up Days” parade in her hometown of Lethbridge, Alta., just a week ago and has been at other public events this summer. Fairbairn is aware that she won’t be going back to Ottawa, Roy says, but believes she can still represent the people of Alberta.

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Senator Fairbairn’s situation

  1. Jesus wept.

    Of course Senator Fairbairn was in ‘mental distress’ for a long time before now. You don’t go to bed fine and then wake up with dementia, this should have been handled well before now. Allowing Sen Fairbairn to vote for so long in Senate when she’s obviously not in sound mind brings our institutions into disrepute.

    Couldn’t Libs get her to retire with dignity a couple of years ago?

    And that McGregor anecdote illustrates why our print msm is witless and why few Canadians read it anymore.

    • Not sure you have dealt with someone at the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, but needless to say there is a lot of denial combined with the confusion of knowing exactly when one is simply being forgetful or there is more……but ALLOW her to retire? That is a pretty charged statement, how do you know she wanted to retire? Again, I suspect that perhaps you haven’t dealt with anyone who is suffering from this, she could have very well not wanted to retire and knew full well there is nothing that could make her do so. Stubborn resistance to admit there is an issue is not uncommon with such patients.
      Frankly, having dealt with this in my family…having worked with such patients, that people (read Conservatives and journalists) seem keen to reveal embarrasing and unverified anecdotes seems to me to be the very height of taking away this woman’s dignity after such long and distinguished service…..what a shame. The Liberals have confirmed she will be serving out her two remaining years away…..seems to me to be the height of dignity and given the Conservatives have a majority in the Senate in any regard…..does it really matter or do we really need to (forgive the saying) ‘kick this dog when its down’?

      • Just because I don’t think exactly like you doesn’t mean I don’t have experience with dementia. I think it is shameful that Sen Fairbairn’s family allows her to wander around Ottawa/Parliament unattended and confused for past few years. Both my grandmothers, who lived into their 90s and suffered from dementia, would have been mortified if their families allowed them to behave kooky in public like Sen Fairbairn supposedly was.

        • Then if you DO have expereince with dementia, then shame on you…..you know full well then that with a patient such as this you can’t ‘allow’ or ‘disallow’ anything without a great deal of distress to the person. And I might remind that these stories are all stated without verification (one source says, a senator says,…..etc) and you assume they are true (in whole or part)?
          We don’t know the full story….in fact, I don’t want to know, she is not coming back in the fall, let it lay there and give the woman her dignity and stop trying to score points and making a meal out of it (I mean people generally, not you personally)

          • You’re assuming his experience with dementia is he knows somebody *else* who has it?

          • I agree. Martin’s column adds nothing of substance, it’s just gossip. Whether she retires or just coasts out her term on sick leave is really immaterial to me. I hope she finds some peace & happiness in the bleak days ahead. It’s a rough road.
            All the debate about her seat? That is just partisan bickering.

          • “just coasts out her term on sick leave is really immaterial to me”
            Would it be immaterial if she were your MP? Wouldn’t you feel cheated if you had an MP whose job is to represent you in the house of common, but who couldn’t do that anymore, and deided to “coast out” the rest of his or her term?
            Well, Senators have many of the same powers as MPs (the Senate’s powers are the same as the House of Commons except it can’t initiate money bills) and play an important role in the functioning of Parliament (which we often overlook). They can’t (and shouldn’t be allowed to) “coast out” their term. The debate isn’t about her seat and who holds it (because who cares, the Tories control the Senate. Hell, if I were the Tories, I’d just appoint a 73-year old Liberal just to avoid any adverse optics), it’s about whether a Senator who is incapable of performing her constitutionally appointed role should hold on to her position. To suggest they can “coast out” the rest of their term is to say that Parliament is meaningless.
            Everyone wants what’s best for Senator Fairbairn, but the Senate’s constitutional role can’t be allowed to take a back seat to her interests.

        • From what I read she doesn’t have much in the way of family – she didn’t have children. Note that her guardian is a niece who works out of the country.

          • Thanks. I was wondering where her family was and why they weren’t helping her.

        • Do you have experience, Tony, with being fairly sure a person has dementia, having some others in agreement, but having the people who live with her on a daily basis deny there is anything wrong? Because I have a case such as that right now, and there is absolutely nothing I can do. And I’m not suggesting that those who live with her on a daily basis are deliberately covering up the problem, because she’s probably behaving just fine in her regular surroundings such that there is nothing but an occasional moment of forgetfulness–and we ALL have those from time to time.

          • My point is Sen Fairbairn has been suffering for a few years now at least and it shouldn’t have come this far. Sen Fairbairn was declared legally incompetent months ago, well past stage of people arguing whether person putting milk away into oven instead of fridge means anything.

            Sen Fairbairn’s colleagues noticed changes in her a few years ago, she should have retired a couple of years ago at least.

      • It’s not a matter of “kicking” Senator Fairbairn. Nor is it a partisan issue or about the ability to force legislation through the Senate (since, as you note, it doens’t make a difference one way or another on that front). The Senate isn’t a country club for elderly politicos (or it isn’t supposed to be), it’s a functional legislative body that plays an important (and often unrecognized) role in our system of government. For example, as Stephen Maehr pointed out in his piece, Senate committees often do top-notch work, often dealing with importants issues that MPs either can’t or won’t deal with.

        To have Senator Fairbainr continue on in her Senate seat if she’s no longer capable of performing those duties (and if she has been declared legally incompetent that’s prima facie evidence that she can’t) makes a mockery of the institution and does a disservice to the Canadians who Senator Fairbairn spent a lifetime serving.

        It’s all well and nice to want to give Senator Fairbairn a dignified retirement, hey we all want that, but the way to do that was to have her retire before questions of her competency became public knowledge (and, if need be, to ask whoever her guardian is to make that decision for her), not to keep her on as the butt of jokes about Senators. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed. Because of the way Senator Fairbairn’s friends and colleagues have handled this, she’s been denied the dignified retirement she deserved. Hard to blame either the media or the Conservatives for that, they’re asking the questions that should have been asked 6 months ago. (In fact, to the extent that they knew about the extent of her illness before now, I think the Conservatives and media should be taken to task for not raising this issue previously)

  2. Competency tests for all.

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