CORNWALL, Ontario – On Tuesday, June 22, Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement resigned her position with the City upon being appointed to the Senate of Canada.
Seaway News sat down with Clement on Tuesday afternoon to discuss her new appointment. Her and Editor Nick Seebruch talked about when she found out about her nomination, what her next steps are, and if she has any advice for her former Council colleagues.
The below transcript of the interview has been edited for grammar, brevity, and clarity.
Q: How do you feel about today’s announcement being named a new Senator?
A: Its very intense. The feelings are, feeling honoured by this trust placed in me. There’s a feeling of joy. There’s a feeling of sadness because my mom passed away in March and I think she would have been proud of me. The sadness is also because of my job as Mayor and having to leave it. I’m not someone who leaves things Nick. I’ve been a lawyer for 30 years right here, and I’m still here. I’ve been a municipal politician for 15 years so for me to leave something is not easy. And so, I’m struggling with that and it is very difficult to have all of these emotions at once.
Q: I think there are many Canadians who don’t think about the Canadian Senate after their Grade 10 Civics class. Could you tell us a bit about what your role as Senator from Ontario will be?
A: It is the place of “sober second thought.” Those are the words most often used to describe that chamber. We are not elected. We are appointed. There’s about a hundred of us versus the about four hundred elected (MPs) so there is a very deliberate composition and we are there to represent all of the provinces and territories in that Chamber. The work is about reviewing legislation. Making it better, by researching, studying, interviewing witnesses and basically bringing the reality of Canadians into that legislation and making sure it is as good as it can be. So, our role is to review and to bring that perspective. Our role is also to work together. The Senate has changed a lot in the past few years because this Prime Minister has appointed independent Senators, so he has shifted the way we work in the Senate. It is very much a place that is in evolution. It is an interesting time to go into the Senate now because of those changes and to bring my municipal background into that. It is all about teams and that has been my experience as a municipal politician. I like legislation, I like reviewing legislation, it is part of what I do as a lawyer.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the process of being appointed a Senator. When did you find out? Was it a surprise?
A: I applied back in 2016. I applied under that new system that was brought in by Prime Minister Trudeau. You apply, and you’re vetted that way. So, when I applied in 2016, I applied, but I didn’t hear back, but I kept my name on the list. I said, I don’t know, if it happens it happens. You don’t even really know that you’re being vetted, and I got a call from the Prime Minister literally on Friday.
Q: When do you start on the new job?
A: There will be orientation, and that will start right away. I already have tons of messages from Senators who want to get to know me because there’s 100 plus of us, there’s not many of us really and we have a lot of work to do together. So, I’m looking forward to having a lot of conversations with Senators over the summer. I’m getting familiar with all of the legislation that is taking place and getting up to speed.
Q: Okay, looking at things more locally, you had to leave your job as Mayor of Cornwall, obviously very difficult, for the city, what do you hope happens to Cornwall going forward? What is your hope for the direction Cornwall goes in?
A: Cornwall is in good hands. This is a really good Council and have been engaged. I mean anyone who watches council meetings knows that Council is engaged, they’re respectful and supported by an expert administration. So, I feel that Cornwall is in very good hands. I also feel that Cornwall has come through this pandemic stronger. It has been difficult, there have been loses, but the fact that we have been able to get through it supports our confidence in ourselves. So, I feel like I’m not leaving Cornwall because I’m still here, but I feel like Cornwall is on a great path moving forward. Having survived the closure of Domtar, having redefined itself over the last 15 years, having now survived a pandemic; there is so much more confidence in ourselves as a community. I feel it and I’m sure other people feel it too. The project with Akwesasne is going to also take us into a direction that will give us confidence. Its going to be hard, but we’re not afraid of hard things in Cornwall.
I feel like I’m not leaving Cornwall because, I chose it 30 years ago, it chose me back, and everything I learned how to do I learned here. I learned how to be a lawyer here. I learned how to be an advocate. I learned how to be a volunteer. I learned how to be a municipal politician. Everything I’ve learned in my career, I’ve learned here. So, I’m never going to leave Cornwall, and Cornwall is never going to leave me.
Q: In terms of your physical living arrangements, will you be living in Ottawa, or will you be living here?
A: I’m going to live here. I have a house here. I’m not going anywhere. I may have to get some sort of lodging in winter time when the House is sitting. It may be tricky, but no, I’m living here.
Q: How about your position here at the Legal Clinic (Executive Director)? What will happen with that?
A: There were two things we had to discuss when I became Senator. You have discussions with the Privy Council Office on the technicalities. I had to resign as Mayor, because you cannot sit as Mayor and Senator at the same time. The Municipal Act does not allow that, but you can continue do other things as a Senator, including, potentially practice law. So, I have to now sit with my employer here . . . to see if there’s any way for me to continue some work here. I have a full case load here. I hope to have some time to transition into something more part-time, but I might want to continue a little bit because it is just what’s kept me grounded in this community for 30 years. Practicing law, especially Poverty Law just keeps you in touch with what’s real and I want to keep in touch with what’s real.
Q: As outgoing Mayor, is there any advice you’d give? Council has some serious decisions to make at their next meeting about who will be next Mayor, how they want to fill that position. In a general sense, do you have any advice to Council?
A: They have built up a respectful relationship amongst themselves and they need to keep building on that foundation. They listen to each another during meetings in a way that I have always found encouraging and they need to keep doing that. It is going to be tricky for them to fill the seat and to work through this, but I have confidence in them because I think the city is in good hands with this council.
Q: So, my last question, you said you’d still be living here, but will we see you around at events?
A: Yeah. It is the part of the job I loved the most. That part, I’m not going to be cutting ribbons, I’m not going to get in the way of this Council. I don’t want to do that. They’re going to be new Mayor and Council and I don’t want to get in the way, but for my own personal pleasure of living in this place, yeah, I’m going to be around and I’m going to be participating.