Sen. Nick Sibbeston appears to have reached his tolerance limit with the so-called chamber of sober second thought.

After almost two decades is the upper chamber, the outspoken and controversial senator for the NWT – and former territorial premier – abruptly announced Sept. 21 he had tendered his resignation to Gov. Gen. David Johnston. His last day will be Nov. 21 – one year short of the mandatory retirement age of 75.

“I thought, it’s as good a day as any to pull the plug. To tell the governor general that I would be resigning on my 74th birthday,” he told News/North (“Nick Sibbeston resigns from Senate,” Sept. 25″).

“I have one year left but in the interest of not just treading water here – just letting go – getting someone else to be the senator, it all added up to me deciding to go.”

Always an outspoken public figure with a passion for his causes – which focused largely on the environment and Indigenous rights – Sibbeston more than once landed in hot water for such things as expenses or missing votes.

Sibbeston told News/North he wasn’t leaving the Senate early because of the changes in the way it operates but he did concede it became drastically different under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper than the Senate he first joined.

“It became so partisan,” said the man who was appointed to the Senate by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien in 1999. “It was unhealthy. It was terrible being there. Anything good you wanted to do was being denied.”

Sibbeston did note the Senate atmosphere has recently improved to become more democratic. He attributes this to appointees now being selected by a committee. Prior to the Trudeau government being elected, taking a seat in the Senate was often seen as akin to bellying up to the patronage trough. While Senators are still ultimately named by the PM, he selects the winner from a list supplied by a selection committee.

Which now opens the door for speculation on who the next senator will be. Will the next NWT senator be a long-time Liberal Party member ready for a cushy ride into retirement? Or will it be a true representative of the territory, someone with a proven track record of fighting for the North and not simply wanting to be a ribbon-cutting figurehead for a colonial institution that often serves little purpose?

There have been calls in recent times for the Senate to be reformed or done away with altogether. News/North has stopped short of stating the Senate should be abolished, however, it needs to be far more effective – perhaps elected – and relevant than it presently is.

That’s why the person selected to replace Sibbeston could send a signal as to the future direction of the place. Some suggestions are already being made, such as from the Status of Women Council, which, understandably will “champion a woman leader for the role as our next senator,” with a “great understanding of the diverse culture, socio-economic challenges and experiences of its people.”

So who could be up for the job? After looking a the parameters – which include being between 30 and 75 years of age; preferably a woman, Indigenous or a visible minority, and ideally fluent in both official languages and having a recognized record of community service – News/North came up with a short list of who could be looked at for the seat.

  • Ethel Blondin-Andrew, former Liberal MP and current Sahtu Secretariat Inc. chair;
  • Stephen Kakfwi, former NWT premier and Dene Nation president;
  • Dennis Bevington, former NDP MP;
  • Former broadcaster Paul Andrew
  • Or Kakfwi’s spouse and Truth and Reconciliation commissioner Marie Wilson.

If she was a few years younger, News/North columnist and honorary chief for life of the Inuvik Dene band Cece Hodgson McCauley would be a slam-dunk choice for senator. Now in her 90s, her decades-long legacy of unvarnished advocacy for the territory, for its isolated communities, and for Indigenous people would raise the roof of the red chamber.

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