Liberal Senator Works Four Months After Being Declared Incompetent

An age old debate carries on about the efficiency and effectiveness of Canada’s unelected Senate. The current Prime Minister promised to reform Canada’s house of sober second thought but has failed to do so in the six years he’s been in government. The Official Opposition NDP wants to see the Senate abolished but has not yet had the power to do it.

The legitimacy of the body is being questioned publicly since, on August 27, it was discovered that a Liberal Senator had been working and voting for four months after having been declared legally incompetent because of advanced dementia.

Joyce Fairbairn’s was nominated for the Senate by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1984 after working in the Prime Minister’s Office. According to her niece, Fairbairn was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in February 2012. The top aide to her party’s Senate leader signed a declaration of her incompetence in April of this year.

Even after that declaration was signed, Fairbairn attended Senate seatings, voted with her party and had control of an expense and travel budget. (In 2011, Senate travel expenses cost Canadian taxpayers $7.2 million and other expenses cost $13.2 million).

Fairbairn’s colleagues say that they knew she needed to leave her position but didn’t know how to raise the issue with the former Government Leader in the Senate and an almost 30 year history in the Senate. Senator Jim Munson told Jennifer Ditchburn from the Canadian Press that it’s not right to just cut someone off when they’re facing something like Alzheimer’s.

A spokesperson for the current Liberal Senate Leader, James Cowan, told the Toronto Star that this issue was Fairbairn’s personal affair and had nothing to do with her position.

That loyalty is a great thing for Fairbairn, but not so much for Canadians who were looking to the Liberal opposition in the Senate to fight against the Conservative budget bill.

Related Stories:

Harper Appoints Defeated Conservative Candidates To Senate

Photo Credit: Scazon


Patricia N.
Patricia N5 years ago

The Canadian Senate needs term limits if they are not going to be voted in. I could see doing that instead of being elected as it would save all that election hassle. And there should be an age limit.

Abbe A.
Azaima A5 years ago


Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


Lynn Squance
Lynn S5 years ago


... like I did with my mother. In the early stages, I discussed decisions with my mother, but now, I just make the decisions. The problem is that the family likely also had problems dealing with the situation of this once vibrant woman. Do you know what it does to a caregiver? Some handle it better than others. And her Senate coworkers, how do they deal with it. At the very least, someone should have tried to talk to the family, not to Fairbairn as that is a disaster in the making.

We can make all the pronouncements we want, the should haves and ought to haves, but we need to remember to treat people with dementia with dignity and respect. For that matter, we should be treating ALL people with dignity and respect.

I sympathise with Fairbairn, her family and colleagues. I appreciate the journey ahead for them, because of the journey that I have travelled with my mother and my stepmother.

As to the Senate, there needs to be a check and balance to the House. I personally favour an elected Senate but don't look to the Rt Honourable PM Twit to deliver on that now that he has discovered patronage appointments. He will stack the Senate hoping for a whizbang legislative tunnel. There needs to be an overhaul of the whole electoral system etc as well.

Thanks to Luvenia for your comments, and Michael G too. Elaine A, why don't you stick to something you know, which is absolutely nothing. Best go back to school and learn to read too.

Lynn Squance
Lynn S5 years ago

My mother has Alzheimer's/dementia and at the age of 84 is in the severe stage. She was effectively declared in competent 16/01/2008 and I put my mother in assisted living, and only had to move her to full time nursing care in a dementia unit in March 2012. Other than the nursing staff, I am my mother's sole caregiver and I think that qualifies to raise a few points about Joyce Fairburn.

Dementias strike everybody a little bit differently but there are some commonalities. One such commonality is the ability to cover up the disease, sometimes in coöboration with a spouse who is in denial. In my mind, is it necessarily obvious that a sufferer would have dementia? No! Especially if you don't know what the traits might be. My mother would talk in vague terms, and guaranteed denied there was a problem, even after diagnosis. Now she barely talks and what she does manage to say, is like a language from another planet.

People don't know they have a problem. Well, from my mother, and BTW my stepmother who also had alzheimer's, both knew there was a problem but fear sets in --- fear that you are indeed losing your mind. And so the aforementioned coverups become more intense.

Should Joyce Fairbairn resigned from the Senate when she was diagnosed, or at the very least gone on long term disability? Yes! But she likely lacked the decision making ability and clear thought processes to do that. That is when her family or legal guardian should have stepped in, like I

Cheryl I.
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you

Heidi D.
Heidi D5 years ago

But ALL the Liberal senators are incompetent. She fits right in with the party.

Kellyanne M.
Kellyanne M5 years ago

Hey other Senators, how about something like " Ms.Fairbairn has been declared mentally incompetent. Because of this we feel she is no longer able to properly fulfil her role as a Senator." That could work.

Georgia Armstrong
Georgia a5 years ago

This is deplorable. Those chosen to represent the residents of a country "didn't know how to raise" the issue of her condition. Well, let us hope they will now get off their well-paid, lazy butts and do something about it before it occurs again. Disgusting.

Sandra Dahms
Sandra D5 years ago

I have to wonder if it really matters if our politicians have dementia or not as none of them seems to actually have any common sense. Just think about it! None of them keep their promised and all of them act the same once they get into office so does it really matter?!!!

And the other senators didn't know how to raise the issue? How irresponsible and ridiculous is that? These people are our house of sober second thought but no one knew how to approach this subject? Good grief - that is scary! I am glad none of them are running a nuclear power plant or a air traffic control tower. Oh yeah they would have been dealt with more efficiently and quickly if they had!

By the way how do you apply to be a senator? LOL!