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Tribute to Senator Wetston


Honourable senators, what does one do for an encore after a life of accomplishment which includes having served in top jobs on consumer protection, transportation, competition policy, energy, the courts and securities regulation?

Well, Howard Wetston, at the age of 70, applied to become a senator. Setting aside every other contribution he has made in the upper house, the fact that he considered a senate appointment a worthy next chapter for an already illustrious career raises the bar for aspiring applicants and puts us in very fine company indeed. Here I’m referring not simply to the positions he has held in the highest echelons of the Canadian establishment but also to the leitmotif of his career, which is public service.

Senator Wetston came to the Senate to continue his lifelong commitment to serving the public. It is our loss that we only had him for just under six years, three of which were attenuated by COVID. But what an outsized contribution he made in that short period of time.

If your measure of senatorial impact is column inches in Hansard; number of sponsored bills, amendments, motions and inquiries; social media hits; or a paparazzi following, Senator Wetston would probably get a B-minus.

But if you were interested in the quality and timing of interventions, willingness to take on difficult and unglamorous assignments and, above all, the trust and respect of colleagues, he surely would graduate summa cum laude.

Have you noticed how, when Senator Wetston speaks, the room gets appreciably quiet, heads turn in his direction and ears perk up? How a seemingly innocent question or comment that he might pose in the middle of a dead-end meeting suddenly changes the trajectory of the discussion and provides fresh avenues for enlightenment? Such was the case on Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act, on which he served as the legislative lead for the Independent Senators Group, ISG, and on which I worked very closely with him.

Bill C-69 was divisive, to put it mildly, but Senator Wetston was one of the few people to whom all sides of the debate went for advice, from pipeline and mining advocates to eco-justice champions and First Nations representatives. He was less about providing answers than about clarifying: clarifying the principles underlying a policy objective; clarifying the institutional framework that all policies must function within; clarifying the aspirations for a better Canada that are necessary if changes in policy are to have any point; and clarifying the trade-offs that come with every difficult decision.

Five years and seven months of Senator Wetston is not enough. He has accomplished so much in that time, and yet I know he wishes that he could have done more. His unfinished work in the Senate is for us to take up. This leaves us with a burning question: After climbing yet another peak in his career, what does Senator Wetston do for an encore?

Howard, we look forward to your next chapter and wish you and Debbie all the very best.