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SEEN UP NORTH: Cools reflects on service

Tony Best

SEEN UP NORTH: Cools reflects on service

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After sittting in Canada’s Senate for three decades, Anne Cools, a Barbadian, can count on one hand the years she has left before she retires from parliament in Ottawa.
“I have four more years in the Senate,” Cools, 71 next week, said a few days ago on Barbados’ west coast where she has been spending a week attending a family reunion.
“I am in the home stretch of my parliamentary career.”
It’s a career that has helped her achieve a lifelong goal of being constantly engaged in public service, a devotion she traced to the advice of her mother and to the encouragement a close relative, “Uncle Freddie” Miller, one of the first cabinet ministers in Barbados, both of whom told her “making life better” for others, especially the poor should be her watchword.
When Cools was made the first Black female member of Canada’s Senate by the then Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, in 1984, Tom Adams was Barbados’ leader; Errol Barrow, the man who led the island into independence in 1966 was Opposition Leader; and Owen Arthur was a political unknown.
Today, Cools, who was first appointed a Liberal Party senator now sits in the chamber as an independent; Barbados is going through its worst economic crisis in a quarter of a century; and Arthur who led Barbados for almost 15 years is no longer a member of the Barbados Labor Party having resigned last week charging that the BLP had lost its way and its soul. He let it be known he will sit as an independent member of the House of Assembly.
“I don’t know what led to Mr Arthur’s recent resignation from the BLP,” said Cools. “I don’t understand why he did what he did and therefore I don’t feel qualified to speak on the issue. But I would say this: I hope what the former Prime Minister did is what he really wants, otherwise he will have many regrets. I must admit too that his resignation caught me by surprise. Beyond that I can’t really comment.”
What she did say, though, was that the BLP was a great party that had done much to propel Barbados forward and Mr Arthur and many of the party’s elected parliamentarians of yesteryear, including “Uncle Freddie” and Dame Billie Miller, a cousin, had contributed significantly to the country’s success.
The former student of Queen’s College who emigrated from Barbados to Canada when she was 13 years old said her switch from the Liberal Party Caucus to being an independent lawmaker had worked out well, giving her the flexibility to speak out on national and international issues as she saw it.
“I know the laws (rules) of parliament and I have the freedom to express views on any issue,” she said.
“The Liberal Party was in a state of decline. Vanity and great ambitions were everywhere. We have seen that situation in many Commonwealth countries.”
Cools insisted she had worked within the party to change its direction but when she recognised that she wasn’t succeeding she left it.
“I am concerned that far too many people don’t know the language of governance,” she complained.
“Unfortunately, public discourse is grounded in ambition not on service to the people. That problem exists in Canada and elsewhere around the world.”
Reflecting on her years in parliament, Cools talked about her championing of the rights of children in and out of the family and her campaigns against the scourge of domestic violence.
Just as important was the emphasis she placed on the rule of law; on the crucial lawmaking functions of the House of Commons and the Senate; and on social justice and civil rights, not to mention public service.
“Public service is a Christian concept and I trace my firm belief in it to my growing up years in Barbados which is culturally rich and has a sound educational system. It values the traditions of democracy,” she said. “Yes, Barbados is having some serious economic problems but I hope people can work together to solve them. The island has a long history of emphasising parliamentary democracy that is second to none.”
Cools explained that it was her interest and track record in working to strengthen the family structure in Canada, using an organization she founded in Ontario that first attracted and held Trudeau’s attention, ultimately leading to her appointment to the Senate.
“Mr Trudeau who was loved across the Caribbean and displayed a keen interest in the region’s development encouraged me to continue working on family issues and that’s what I have done,” she said.