Canadian Senator offers advice to Queen’s students

Anne Cools sits down with The Journal to talk politics

Canadian Senator Anne Cools at Queen’s.

After serving more than thirty years in the Canadian Senate, Anne Cools knows politics.

First summoned to the Senate in January of 1984 on the recommendation of Pierre Trudeau — “Mr. Trudeau,” she noted affectionately — Cools has been serving Canada ever since as the first black female senator in North America. 

On Friday, Nov. 18, she sat down with The Journal at Queen’s, where she was visiting to speak to a group of politics students. Cools has previously taken part in Queen's Model Parliament as a speaker, and attended a football game at Queen's while a student at McGill.

“That was my first and last football game,” she said jokingly.

However, Cools’ inspirational reach has extended further than the University. In 2004, she was chosen as one of the 100 most influential persons in Canada and one of CBC’s Top 20 Canadian Women.

“I've been very blessed in my life to always have people who were older and more experienced than I,” she said. Originally born in Barbados in August of 1943, into a family of politicians, she moved to Canada at the age of 13 and lived in Montreal where she completed her Bachelors of Arts at McGill University.

When discussing her first day in the Senate, Cools was invigorated. “I was warmly welcomed,” she said with a smile. “Seven senators were summoned that day, but I got the largest applause.”

Cools represents Toronto-Centre-York, and currently has no party affiliation, but has been a representative of both the Liberal and Conservative parties during her career.

The bulk of her work targets divorce law, custody and child support. She is an advocate for shared parenting and believes strongly in the importance of fathers’ involvement in child development.

When asked what her greatest advice would be for students set on politics, she said “you must go into politics with a pure heart.”

“I hear young people say they want to be the Prime Minister, but I think you're not going into politics with a pure heart because you’re saying you want that one job.” She paused for a moment to glance around the empty lecture room. “To me that’s ambition, that doesn't tell me anything that you will do for the public good.”

In reality, she said, politics is a tough business. Cools emphasized that it’s important for students to immerse themselves within the university environment. “You must read a lot, build up experience,” she said. “You must build up endurance.”

She joked about her experiences, chuckling as she said “I’ve learned in life that I have a lot more resilience than some of my opponents.”

As the first black female senator in North America, Cools recalled that it was imperative for her to have a strong resolve. “You've got to run that course,” she said.

Senate, to her, is a place where individuals expose themselves. “You stand up to speak in the Senate,” she said with a laugh, “and you're the only one holding an opinion and you're trying to persuade people away from the opinion that someone has already put into their head.”

She referenced her first time watching new senators speak and stood up from her seat to demonstrate how their knees would shake. “The basic thing is you have to do your best.”

Cools noted passionately that many of the politics students she spoke to at Queen’s were afraid to be wrong. “That's a healthy part of life at that age, because life will teach you that you don't say anything unless you're ready to be challenged.”

However, speaking about the best joys of her job, Cools relaxed in her chair. “Things like this,” she said matter-of-factly. “It comes easy to me and I feel a sense of duty to help young minds form ... Mr. Trudeau told me once that if you think you can do it, don't let anybody talk you out of it.”

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