COLUMN: Surrey’s senators make history

Canada's Senate has only ever had two Senators from Surrey – Tom Reid, and Gerry St. Germain, the latter the focus of a recent audit.

During its long history, the Senate of Canada has only had two senators who lived in Surrey.

Both were federal politicians who were initially elected as MPs, and were then appointed to the Senate by the respective prime minister of the day.

Senator Tom Reid is now mostly forgotten, but in his day he was a powerful political force. He served as reeve (mayor) of Surrey from 1924 to 1930 before being elected as Liberal MP for New Westminster (which included Surrey). He was first elected when the Conservatives won a majority government under R.B. Bennett.

He served for almost two decades in the House of Commons before being appointed to the Senate in 1948. As both an MP and senator, he did a lot of work with the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission, which is a joint Canada-U.S. body charged with dealing with the Pacific salmon runs, which are no respecter of boundaries.

He lived for many years in South Newton, in a neighbourhood at one time known as Reidville.

Today, one of the few places he is still remembered in Surrey is at an elementary school — Senator Reid Elementary. Reid died in 1968 at the age of 82.

Surrey’s other senator is Gerry St. Germain. First elected as a Conservative MP in the riding of Mission-Port Moody in a 1983 byelection, his political career had strong overlaps with Brian Mulroney.

He and Mulroney were elected to the House of Commons on the same day, and St. Germain was a strong supporter of Mulroney’s leadership of the Progressive Conservative party. He was re-elected in 1984 when Mulroney became prime minister by winning 211 seats in the House of Commons, which stands as an all-time high for one party.

Mulroney later named St. Germain to his cabinet and as political minister for B.C. However, he lost his seat in the 1988 election to the NDP’s Joy Langan. The election was hard-fought over the issue of free trade.

In one of Mulroney’s last acts as prime minister in 1993, he named St. Germain to the Senate, where he remained (as a PC, then Canadian Alliance senator, before going back to the Conservative label) until he retired in 2012.

St. Germain lived for many years on a large ranch on 8 Avenue in South Surrey. He  hosted many political gatherings there – including several for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

He also worked closely with the BC Liberals and hosted several events for them as well.

St. Germain is now under fire for some of his expenses, which have been highlighted by auditor general Michael Ferguson in his report into spending by senators.

He is one of nine singled out in the report and was referred for further investigation.

In a response, St. Germain stated he believes he has done nothing wrong. Nonetheless, it is obvious the rules regarding spending by senators were and are notoriously lax.

St. Germain was singled out for having the Senate pay to bring a number of people to his 50th wedding anniversary at Hazelmere Golf and Tennis Club in 2011. Among those on hand for that event was the PM.

Canadians, fed up with government waste, have been particularly unhappy about the way senators spend tax dollars.

It is likely few Surrey residents would object if the Senate disappeared entirely. That will take some doing, as it requires agreement by every single provincial government,  but it may happen yet if the Senate’s indifference towards taxpayers continues.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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