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In memoriam: The late Senator Elaine J. McCoy, Q.C.
January 21, 2021

Senator Elaine McCoy will be remembered as a whip-smart parliamentarian, a fiercely loyal Albertan, a gifted orator and a generous mentor, her Senate colleagues said.

“This is a woman who just cared,” said Senator Doug Black, a colleague of Senator McCoy’s for eight years.

“She cared about her friends. She deeply cared about public service. She felt this was an unbelievable privilege that was extended to her.”

Senator McCoy, a respected lawyer and provincial cabinet minister, gave Albertans a powerful and eloquent voice in Parliament when she was appointed to the Red Chamber in 2005. She died on December 29, 2020 at the age of 74.

‘When she stood to speak, you listened’

Senator McCoy was “very much an Alberta senator,” and worked tirelessly to represent Albertans on Parliament Hill, said Senator Diane Griffin, a close friend of Senator McCoy.

This was evident to many other colleagues, too.

“Elaine was a very smart woman — but as smart as she was, she was more hardworking,” Senator Doug Black said. “She never ever forgot where she came from and that’s why I think she was so effective.”

Family members joined Senator McCoy, bottom centre, in Ottawa when she was appointed to the Upper Chamber on March 24, 2005. Her mother, Jean McCoy, and her husband Miles Patterson are at her side; brother Bill McCoy, top left, also made the trip.

 

That dedication was on display as the Senate dealt with two government bills, C-48 and C-69, that had major implications for her province, senators recalled.

“She followed those two bills really closely and went to committee meetings even though she wasn’t on those committees,” Senator Griffin said. “Her health was failing but she put her heart and soul into that.”

Senator McCoy participates in an October 4, 2016 press conference.

Senator Jim Munson said Senator McCoy knew the energy and environment sectors “inside out”; Senator Doug Black noted she was also an early advocate in Western Canada for the need to “responsibly develop” energy resources by balancing development with environmental concerns.

She could also masterfully articulate her deep knowledge and command senators’ attention, her colleagues recalled.

“When she stood to speak, you listened,”
Senator Munson said.

Senator Yonah Martin called her “one of the most skilled parliamentarians” in the Chamber.

“Her interventions were on point and rooted in experience and wisdom,” Senator Martin said.

Several senators admired how little Senator McCoy relied on prepared statements and arguments in those moments.

“She had the ability to stand up in the Chamber — sometimes with notes, sometimes without — and get to the kernel of the issue,” Senator Patricia Bovey said.

“That’s a very real gift.”

Strong opinions

After she was appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Paul Martin, Senator McCoy chose to sit first as a Progressive Conservative and later as an independent.

While she sat apart from the Senate’s biggest caucuses for most of her career, she nevertheless sought to build bridges in the Chamber, her Senate colleagues said.

For example, she had “strong” opinions about the role of independent senators and how the Senate should be reformed and modernized, but she also maintained a deep respect for the institution’s roots, traditions and rules.

“She encouraged me in my thinking on these issues and I value that experience very much,” said Senator Marc Gold.

In early 2016, as the number of non-affiliated senators grew in the Upper Chamber, Senator McCoy became a founding member of a working group that ultimately became the Independent Senators Group. That fall, the group elected her as its first facilitator.

That same year, she also sat on the Special Senate Committee on Modernization, which recommended in an October 2016 report that the Senate begin to televise its proceedings. Video broadcasting began on March 18, 2019, when the Senate moved to its temporary home in the Senate of Canada Building.

Senator McCoy, centre, participates in the second Youth Indigenize the Senate event in Ottawa, June 2017.




Senator McCoy, mother Jean McCoy and step-granddaughter Sarah Patterson stand in front the Women are Persons! monument on Parliament Hill in 2005. (Photo credit: Office of the late Senator McCoy)

Senator McCoy, left, poses with former Alberta premier Don Getty and niece Andrea McCoy. (Photo credit: Office of the late Senator McCoy)

Senator McCoy and Senator David Adams Richards chat in Ottawa in November 2017. (Photo credit: Office of the late Senator McCoy)

An important mentor

Several senators who recently entered the Upper Chamber said Senator McCoy was quick to welcome them and encouraged them as they adjusted to Senate life.

“That gave me a great deal of confidence as I was starting out,” Senator Bovey said.

Senator McCoy represented the province of Alberta in the Senate for 15 years. She died while in office, on December 29, 2020. (Photo credit: Office of the late Senator McCoy)

Veteran senators, too, described the seasoned Western politician as an important mentor and sounding board — and she could also be counted on to throw a heck of a party, her colleagues said.

Senator McCoy’s fifth-floor office above the Senate Chamber in Centre Block became a famed venue for soirées and deep conversations about politics.

“She loved to entertain, and there used to be a lot of people coming and going from her office,” recalled Senator Salma Ataullahjan, whose office was on the same floor.

Senator Griffin said she has fond memories of dinners at Senator McCoy’s condo in Ottawa.

“She had a great sense of humour. And she loved Famous Grouse scotch!” she said.

Senator McCoy’s poise and style also left an impression, with several colleagues describing her as dignified, gracious, elegant and with a “wonderful smile.”

“She had more to contribute, no doubt,” Senator Doug Black said. “When she left the Senate, which would have been in March, there was a next act for Elaine that I think would have been very powerful.

“It’s a loss. Canada has suffered a loss.”

Senator McCoy spends time with, from left, senators Percy Mockler, David Wells and Leo Housakos in March 2017. (Photo credit: Office of the late Senator McCoy)


Senator McCoy, right, is joined by, from left, former prime minister Kim Campbell, former senator Tommy Banks and his wife, Ida Banks, at an event in March 2015. (Photo credit: Office of the late Senator McCoy)

Senator McCoy puts up a campaign sign in Calgary ahead of the provincial election on March 20, 1989. She served as the MLA for Calgary-West from 1986 to 1993. (Photo credit: Office of the late Senator McCoy)

Senators McCoy and Diane Griffin celebrate their birthdays in an Ottawa pub on March 22, 2019. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Diane Griffin)

Senator Elaine McCoy stands in the Red Chamber in Centre Block in this picture taken in December 2018. (Photo credit: Office of the late Senator McCoy)

Statements on the Passing of the Honourable Senator Elaine J. McCoy, Q.C.

“A respected member of the parliamentary community, Senator McCoy will be greatly missed by her colleagues in the Senate. She will always be remembered as a proud Albertan, an ardent defender of fairness, and a tireless champion for the people she represented.”

The Honourable George J. Furey, Q.C.
Speaker of the Senate

Click here for Senator Furey’s full statement on Senator McCoy’s passing

“I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my friend and colleague Senator Elaine McCoy, a former Alberta cabinet minister who worked tirelessly to serve her province and country in the Senate since 2005.

When I was appointed to the Senate, Senator McCoy was one of the first to welcome me, and I benefited from the time we spent sharing her experience, knowledge and perspectives on the changing institution to which she was so devoted. She will be greatly missed in the Senate. I offer my heartfelt condolences to her family, friends and loved ones.”

Senator Marc Gold
Government Representative in the Senate

“From her time in the Alberta Legislature, to the Red Chamber in Ottawa, Senator McCoy was always deeply committed to her country. She’ll be remembered for her staunch support of her constituents in Alberta. Senator McCoy’s recent impassioned and tenacious defence of Canada’s energy sector against the harmful bills C-48 and C-69 was a testament to her deep commitment to her home province, and the thousands of people employed in the sector across Canada.

Her unique perspective, foresight and formidable intellect made her an influential leader. Her contributions to public policy and unwavering support of her constituents have benefited all Canadians.”

Senator Don Plett
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

“The Honourable Elaine McCoy was smart, articulate, charming and determined. She fought for the equality of all senators and was a driving force in bringing about changes to the Rules of the Senate to recognize non-partisan parliamentary groups. 

As a founding member of the ISG and its first facilitator, Senator McCoy was a mentor and sounding board for so many of us who were appointed after 2015. She often said that her goal was to be the wind under the wings of ‘newbie’ senators. We will miss her deeply, but the wind will be always with us.”

Senator Yuen Pau Woo
Facilitator of the Independent Senators Group

“I’m very sad to have lost my friend and Senate colleague Elaine McCoy with her passing on December 29, 2020. As a steadfast advocate for human rights and Senate modernization, her dedication, commitment and sharp sense of humour will be greatly missed. A strong and passionate voice for Alberta has gone still.

God bless you, Elaine — rest in peace.”

Senator Scott Tannas
Leader of the Canadian Senators Group

“The Honourable Elaine McCoy, Q.C., truly embodied what public service should look like. First as an MLA and provincial cabinet minister and then as a senator, she was a fierce advocate working for the people and province of Alberta.

Many have already spoken of her passion, her insightfulness and her wicked but subtle sense of humour. Those of us lucky enough to work with her will remember how she used these attributes to work across party lines, and to deliver thoughtful and persuasive speeches. She will be sorely missed.”

Senator Jane Cordy
Leader of the Progressive Senate Group

Tributes in the Senate - February 9, 2021

Tributes from the Senate Chamber - February 9, 2021

Watch on Senate ParlVu