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Black History Month: Anne Cools

Photo courtesy of Senate of Canada.

Writers and political scientists have often discussed what drives someone to a life of politics — be it circumstance, a desire to aid others, or a yearning for power. In Anne Cools’ case, it seems she was born into it. Yet, the tides of history also had some sway.

Former Senator Anne Clare Cools, the first Black member appointed to the Senate of Canada (and first Black senator in North America), had politics in her blood. Though born and raised in Barbados to a pharmacist father and a homemaker mother, Cools’ grandfather and uncle were politically active.

Cools and her family moved to Montreal in 1957, where she later earned her B.A. in psychology and sociology from McGill University in 1981. Her passion, though, seemed rooted in helping people. In 1974, Cools moved to Toronto, founding Women in Transition Inc.; one of Canada’s first shelters for victims of domestic violence. 

When a determined Cools finally entered politics, she chose the biggest political arena imaginable at the time in Canada — a federal Liberal riding flooded with press coverage.

The riding of Rosedale in Toronto was geographically complex. Located north of Bloor, it was aa quiet, residential area said to house some of the city’s most influential families. The south of Bloor, however, was a sprawling, diverse urban tapestry. The clear-cut economic divide was sharply evident.

Cools’ campaign was documented by Bonnie Sherr Klein and Anne Henderson in the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) short The Right Candidate for Rosedale. The film references other inspiring, political documentaries like The Times of Harvey Milk. Both films heavily feature the candidates running their campaigns from their own apartments and going door-to-door to raise awareness.

Ultimately, Cools, like Milk in his early attempts at candidacy, did not secure the nomination to run. The Liberal party nominated John Evans, who was later defeated by former Conservative, Mayor David Crombie. Nevertheless, her campaign was enough to impress then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who appointed Cools to the Senate in 1984. 

Cools sat with the Liberal caucus for 20 years before a crisis of conscience over the sponsorship scandal caused her to switch sides. Always outspoken, Cools didn’t last long with the Conservatives. She was expelled three years later after criticizing Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

On Aug 11, 2018, Cools retired — an independent senator at last — from her post as Dean of the Senate. She was the longest standing member at 34 years. Whether she was born into it or rose to the occasion, Senator Cools went through congress, and life, her own way.

Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer

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