- Category: news
- Created: Wednesday, 21 August 2013 13:43
- Published: Wednesday, 21 August 2013 13:43
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Canadians watching the Senate spending affair may be forgiven for wondering what the upper chamber does aside from claiming expenses. In an occasional series, Postmedia News provides snapshots of some of the other members of the Senate of Canada. Today: Lillian Dyck.
She was the first aboriginal woman appointed to the Canadian Senate. She’s also a former professor of neuropsychiatry, so Sen. Lillian Dyck has had no trouble figuring out how she can contribute to policy debates from Canada’s upper chamber.
For instance, she says, one of her proudest moments came this past March when Bill C-27 — legislation that would require aboriginal chiefs and band councillors to publish their salaries and expenses — was put before the Senate. Dyck strongly disagreed with the bill, not because she disagrees with openness, but because she felt it placed stricter rules of transparency on First Nations than on any other entity, the Senate included, and she felt that was racist.
At the third reading of the bill, Dyck argued that C-27 would not solve problems among corrupt chiefs but would simply remove the freedom of First Nations to decide whether or not to disclose some personal financial information.
Dyck knew she wouldn’t win the battle over that bill, but says she still felt a sense of accomplishment as she stood up to oppose it.
“All my colleagues on my side clapped for me when I stood up and I felt so good because we put up a really good fight,” she says. “That’s what you need to do.”
Dyck, 67, has Cree and Chinese heritage and is a member of the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan. Appointed by former prime minister Paul Martin in 2005, she is a Liberal representing the province of Saskatchewan – the same province represented by Sen. Pamela Wallin, recently found to have improperly billed more than $120,000 in expenses.
Dyck says at first she was very angry over the Wallin affair, but after seeing the amount of criticism Wallin has received, her anger is starting to turn into pity. Still, she hasn’t heard Wallin speak much about Saskatchewan and wonders how much Wallin relates to the province she represents.
Prior to joining the red chamber, Dyck was a professor of neuropsychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan. When first appointed, she wanted to represent the New Democratic Party, a case of “naiveté,” as she puts it, because the NDP favours Senate abolition and doesn’t want senators officially bearing the party flag.
So, for her first four years in the Senate, Dyck set her designation to independent NDP. In other words, she was aligned politically with NDP values —with the exception of the party’s Senate abolition policy — but was not a part of the party. She joined the Liberals’ Senate caucus in 2009.
Some NDP MPs, particularly women, have realized the benefit of having her in the Senate. “What are they going to do with an NDP bill that comes to the Senate; who is going to sponsor it, because there are no NDP senators?” she asks.
Dyck says she uses her position as a senator to draw attention to topics such as missing and murdered aboriginal women, improving post-secondary education, and women in science and technology.
She argues the Senate still serves an important purpose: providing Canadians with the opportunity to change, improve or reject legislation.
“That sober second thought is a second safeguard for Canadians to have their voice when they are really concerned, or particularly when it is a really hot topic, one of these issues where people have very strong feelings.”
Lillian Dyck at a glance
Political affiliation: Liberal.
Appointed: 2005, by prime minister Paul Martin.
Province represented: Saskatchewan.
Current committees: Deputy chair of Aboriginal Peoples committee, member of social affairs, science and technology committee.
Life before the Senate: Neuropsychiatry professor and associate dean at the College of Graduate Studies and Research, University of Saskatchewan.
Hometown: Dyck’s family moved around when she was young. Dyck was born in North Battleford, Sask., went to school in Swift Current, Sask., and now calls Saskatoon home.
Senate retirement date: Aug. 24, 2020.
Fun fact: Dyck is a bird watcher who loves to photograph the whooping crane. Every year she updates her camera to try to get better shots of the endangered bird. She also owns a German shepherd cross, called Teddy. “He’s a mishmash, kind of like me.”