Senator David Adams Richards is a prize-winning Catholic author from Newcastle, N.B. Courtesy of sencanada.ca

Canada's newest senator adds his voice to summer jobs funding protest

By  Mike Mastromatteo, Catholic Register Special
  • April 25, 2018

Canada’s newest senator refuses to be bound by partisanship, so he doesn’t hold back when the subject is the Canada Summer Jobs funding policy that has unleashed much debate the last few months.

“I am opposed to it. I think it is arrogant and disastrous,” says David Adams Richards, a prize-winning Catholic author from Newcastle, N.B., who is just the third senator appointed since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initiated the new non-partisan selection process for the Senate in 2015.

Since taking his seat last August, the 68-year-old Richards has looked for ways to bring some of his long-held social concerns to the forefront of parliamentary discourse. Then along came the summer jobs policy, which allows the government to withhold summer employment funding unless applicants attest to the Liberals’ pro-choice/reproductive rights position.

Canada’s Catholic bishops are just one body taking the government to task on this issue, arguing that the move violates religious freedom.

“Young kids teaching others how to canoe and hike and read, some of these kids from the poorest parts of our [Miramachi] river area having the only vacation they will have,” Richards told The Catholic Register. “I think (the policy) is burrowing into a young person’s conscience for political affirmation. It is couched in terms of liberty, but there is not a totalitarian government in the world who wouldn’t agree with it.”

Richards is unperturbed with suggestions that Canada’s legislative upper chamber and the home of parliamentary “second sober thought” is a venue for prime ministers to reward long-serving party members with patronage appointments.

“I haven’t that concern (about patronage) and I have met many brilliant men and women who want to do the best for our country,” Richards said. “That alone is humbling.”

For Richards, the Senate appointment is no sinecure, nor a reward for any partisan loyalty.

“I knew I was being considered, since I applied for the (Senate) opening at the last moment,” Richards said. “One has to apply for the Senate under the new appointment process. I wanted to see if I might be able to do something in Ottawa.”

Although he was honoured to receive the Senate appointment, Richards enters the upper chamber determined to work for his priorities and personal beliefs. He has no party affiliation and has never belonged to any of the three main political parties in Canada. 

“My views are my own,” Richards said. 

“My career has followed a certain independent line. I doubt if that will change, at least, I hope it will not.”

Richards expects to serve in the Senate until at least age 75, “so long as my health holds out.”

Despite his opposition to the summer jobs policy, he says he has enjoyed his time in the Senate, working with committees on veterans’ affairs, national defence and energy.

His creative pursuits continue as well. He has a new novel Mary Cyr, released in April, and two other books written and soon to go to the publisher.

Many of Richards’s novels, including the Giller Prize-winning Mercy Among the Children (2000), describe the hard-scrabble lives of the predominantly Catholic Miramachi region of New Brunswick.

Prior to his Senate appointment, Richards had been a writer-in-residence at several universities and colleges and has received honorary doctorates from three New Brunswick universities and the Atlantic School of Theology. 

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