Retirement party for Senator Donald Oliver

Tuesday 22 October, 2013 saw hundreds of fans and admirers gather at the Lago Restaurant on Dow’s Lake to honour Canada’s first male African-Canadian senator on the occasion of his retirement from public life. Organised by the Community of Federal Visible Minorities and led by wonder girl Marie-Edith St.Ville, the event featured reflections by community leaders, musical selections by Chadia Kikondjo, Lucannes Louis, and Danesca Louis and spoken-word poetry by Anthony “nth digree” Bansfield. Among the special guests were Senator Don Meredith, the senator’s beautiful wife Linda, his sister and a host of other dignitaries. Black Ottawa Scene took the senator aside for a few moments for a short interview.

Can you tell us your impressions of the Senate, what has it been like for you?

The Senate is now more diverse than ever, there are more visible minorities, more women than when I joined. Some of its major committee studies have helped shape the public policy for the executive.

The Senate is currently facing challenges, with Senators Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau in the spotlight. Has that changed your perception of the importance of the Senate and its relevance, with many people calling for it to be abolished?

The Senate does some invaluable work and is there as a check and balance against the House of Commons which is very partisan and makes a lot of mistakes in legislation and other things. The fathers of confederation said we need to have a second chamber with representatives from the regions to balance things and so the Senate cannot be replaced because it’s so badly needed for the democratic system in Canada.

You were the first African Canadian appointed to the Senate, by Brian Mulroney the then Prime Minister in 1990. What was it like being the very first Black Canadian in that position?

I was the first male African Canadian in the Senate. Senator Ann Cools was the very first African Canadian. There was a huge challenge as the Senate administration was all white, the Library of Parliament was all white, the administration of the House of Commons was all white and so parliament was not representative of the mosaic of Canada at the time.  So I set about to try to change that and we have been able to make some substantial inroads particularly in the Senate.

Some members of the Black community suggest that your presence in the Senate has not made any difference in the lives of African Canadians in the 20 years you were there. What is your response to that?

They should read some of the things I have been able to accomplish across Canada and around the world for people of African descent. The most important is that I personally raised five hundred thousand for the largest study ever done on the advancement of blacks in the public and private sector. That report is considered as the most important step forward for visible minorities and blacks in the history of Canada and it’s made promotions much easier for people of colour. That’s just one thing and there are many more.

 Do you see the present government appointing another African Canadian to replace you?

The appointment of Senators is something that is the function of all prime ministers. The choice of my replacement is strictly and solely that of the Prime Minister. I am hoping it will be a visible minority or a Black Canadian but I have no say over it.

Suppose the PM does not appoint an African Canadian, where does that leave us? How do we fill that gap?

There is Senator Meredith and he is a very strong voice for African Canadians.

So what next for the Senator? You still look very young, lively, strong and healthy. 

The main thing is to find things to do in Africa. I am working on a number of initiatives in that regard.

Can you talk about those initiatives?

No right now, in a month’s time, I’ll tell you more about it.

Would you have any message for the readers of Black Ottawa Scene?

Become politically active, both in the municipal, provincial and federal levels, get involved with parties and get into power.


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