Liberal senator goes Conservative

June 8, 2004

OTTAWA (CP) - Anne Cools, a controversial Liberal senator for 20 years, joined the Conservative party Tuesday, saying Prime Minister Paul Martin has dashed her hopes for political renewal.

Cools, the first black appointed to the Senate, called Conservative Leader Stephen Harper "Canada's hope for change" in announcing her decision, which she said came after months of thought.

"Like so many Canadians, I had been hopeful that Mr. Martin would initiate a new era, a genesis and renewal in the Liberal government," she said in a statement released by the Tories. "I had hoped for an affirmation of responsible government, diligent stewardship of public moneys and renewed leadership, accountable to elected members and the public, not its paid advisers.

"But we have seen the opposite."

She said the decision to keep the billion-dollar gun registry - which she opposes - was the last straw.

Liberal officials appeared unsurprised and unfazed by the maverick senator's switch.

"It's no surprise given Senator Cools' longstanding disagreements with many Liberal party policies over the past decade," said party strategist Heidi Bonnell.

Harper welcomed the newcomer, praising her record of public service. "She has long earned my respect and now my support in joining the Conservative caucus in the Senate."

Peter MacKay, the deputy Tory leader, was even more effusive:

"Senator Cools is a person of deep spiritual conviction and a valued friend."

Cools said she went Tory, rather than Independent, because of "personal respect" for Harper.

"He understands that elected members are Parliament's eyes and ears in our communities. He welcomes members from all cultures and backgrounds and has a keen intellect and respects debate."

Cools is a vocal opponent of efforts to legislate same-sex marriage. A strong advocate of fathers' rights, she was also instrumental in blocking a new Divorce Act until a committee was struck to examine the issue of custody and access.

An aide with Martin at the G-8 summit in Georgia, said it's yet another indication of the differences between the two parties.

"I think a substantial battle is now building that shows the stark policy differences between the Liberals and Stephen Harper's party," said Scott Reid.

"Senator Cools has the right to decide to join a party that puts military spending ahead of health care."

The new Conservative senator was born in Barbados and came to Canada as a high school student. Her career has been checkered. As a student radical, she was involved in a 1969 riot that trashed a computer centre at Montreal's Sir George Williams University (now Concordia). In 1971, she was sentenced to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine for her role in the incident. She went on to become a pioneer in helping set up shelters for battered women and families in crisis in Toronto.

In the 1979 and 1980s federal elections, she ran for the Liberals in the Toronto riding of Rosedale and was twice defeated.

In 1984, Trudeau appointed her to fill an Ontario Senate vacancy, making her the first black to serve in the Upper Chamber.

She has been a colourful legislator, noted for her outspoken attitude and gregarious nature.

Bonnell said she doesn't see the move as a setback for the Liberals in the election campaign.

"We have a full slate of 308 candidates, representatives of all regions and peoples across the country that are quite happy to stand with our platform and our policies."

Her move leaves the standing in the 108-seat Senate at: Liberals, 64, Conservatives, 25, Independent, five, Progressive Conservative, three, with eight vacancies.


Congratulations Anne Cools