In a democracy people don’t sit in the social and economic bleachers; they all play the game.
Those famous words of Father Moses Coady – one of the founders of the Antigonish Movement – have been front-of-mind for Senator Mary Coyle with her appointment to Canada’s Upper Chamber.
“I want to be part of ensuring that everybody plays a role in Canadian democracy,” she told the Casket, in reflecting on what she would like to contribute to her new responsibilities.
Calling them “important issues of the day,” Coyle listed Indigenous peoples, international development, gender, women and climate change, as some of the areas in which she is looking forward to helping make a difference.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the appointment of Coyle, representing Nova Scotia, and Mary Jane McCallum, for Manitoba, Dec. 4, to the Senate of Canada.
“I am quite humbled. I am extremely excited to be joining the Upper Chamber,” she said.
Coyle described it as a “huge opportunity” to work with “a lot of talented people.”
She added she also feels the “tremendous weight of responsibility” that comes with the position.
The road to the Senate started 18 months ago, in the summer of 2016, when Coyle decided to apply for one of two then-vacant seats.
“I was excited by the possibilities for Canada,” she said, in talking about her interest.
Considering her age – early 60s at the time – Coyle said she thought a place in the Senate would provide “a way to make a significant contribution” – not only to Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada, but also internationally.
“It was a leap of faith,” she said of her initial application.
“There were many, many well-qualified candidates, so I knew it was, definitely, a long shot.”
Wanda Thomas Bernard and Daniel Christmas were slotted into those vacancies, appointments that Coyle praised.
From there, she continued with her work as executive director of St. F.X.’s Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership, along with advisory and facilitation roles with various organizations, including the Haitian Centre for Leadership and Excellence and the Friends United Indigenous Arts and Culture Initiative.
“I was certainly happy with my work,” Coyle said.
When another opportunity to apply arose, the former Coady International Institute’s director and St. F.X. vice president said she “thought long and hard.”
Circumstances had changed; Coyle was in the middle of chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer.
“It was a low moment, when it came to my physical health,” she said.
Despite that challenge, the self-described optimist said she remained “positive and hopeful” about her future.
“I decided to move forward,” Coyle said.
She explained the five-person recommendation panel sought further information from her, in February or March, while four weeks ago, Coyle received word she has moved on to “another stage.”
On the last day of November (30th), she received word that a few days later (Dec. 2), between 3 and 6 p.m., she would receive a call.
“I was wondering if it was going to be whether or not I had moved on to another step,” Coyle said.
On that Saturday afternoon, her Antigonish house was filled with her daughter and some friends – not to mention their children – who were “running around” and having fun.
“It was just a thrilling moment,” she said of that phone call.
The Prime Minister was on the other end, with her invitation to join the Upper Chamber.
“I am very honoured to be standing on the shoulders of many great Nova Scotia senators,” Coyle said, including the late Al Graham, who she called “a great friend.”
She also noted the tremendous guidance she received from the late Allan J. MacEachen and John Stewart, long-time senators, who had deep roots at their alma mater – St. F.X.
And, for Coyle, there is Sister Peggy Butts – a long-time educator at Cape Breton University, amongst other accomplishments, who she described as “remarkable.”
“She was a trailblazer,” she added.
Coyle and McCallum were scheduled to be sworn in Wednesday (Dec. 13) in Ottawa.