Elaine McCoy, longtime Alberta senator and former cabinet minister, has died

·5 min read

Longtime Alberta senator Elaine McCoy, who also served as a Calgary MLA and provincial cabinet minister for years, has died.

She was 74.

McCoy was named to the Senate by former Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2005 after first practising as a lawyer in Calgary and then serving as the MLA for Calgary-West from 1986 to 1993.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that McCoy was a champion of human rights and environmental causes, as well as a strong advocate for Senate modernization.

"A great Albertan, Senator McCoy was an accomplished lawyer who dedicated her life to protecting people, including through her work supporting several charitable organizations," he said. "On behalf of the Government of Canada, Sophie and I extend our deepest condolences to Senator McCoy's family, friends, and colleagues. She was a dedicated public servant and will be missed."

'Authentic Alberta maverick' cut a 'stylish swathe' through Alberta politics

Her Senate colleague from Alberta, Paula Simons, said on Twitter that McCoy was an "authentic Alberta maverick" who "had a vision of a role for Independent senators, who were not beholden to any party."

Simons also remembered her first encounters with McCoy years ago.

"When I first started work as a journalist, she cut a stylish swathe through Alberta political culture. She was beautiful, elegant, always fashionably groomed. She brought glamour and charisma to the Getty government, when neither was in abundant supply," wrote Simons.

"When Don Getty stepped down, Elaine McCoy ran for the Tory leadership. It's intriguing to think that in an alternate timeline, she, instead of Ralph Klein, might have become premier. But that was not to be."

The cause of McCoy's death wasn't immediately made public.

Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Immediately named to cabinet after winning office

McCoy was born in Brandon, Man., with her family moving frequently in Canada and overseas while she was a child.

She finished a BA and LLB at the University of Alberta, then practised law, becoming a senior legal counsel for the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board and a counsel for TransAlta Utilities Corporation.

Outgoing Alberta premier Peter Lougheed asked McCoy to run for the seat he held in Calgary-West when he retired.

Once elected, McCoy was immediately named to the Progressive Conservative cabinet of premier Don Getty as minister of consumer and corporate affairs and the minister responsible for women's issues.

According to her Senate biography, she created the Insurance Council of Alberta, restructured the Alberta Securities Commission, and introduced new policies to protect consumers and to recognize foreign credentials.

After being appointed Alberta's labour minister in 1989 as well as minister responsible for human rights and for Alberta's civil service, McCoy set up an Alberta Human Rights commission inquiry that was responsible for investigating and trying to eliminate supremacist activity in the province.

She was also interested in the issue of domestic violence and was instrumental in the creation of the Lake Louise Declaration, billed as the province's first action plan designed to fight violence against women. That declaration was adopted by all ministers responsible for women's issues across Canada, her biography states.

Persuasive advocate for Alberta's energy sector

McCoy sat as an Independent in the Senate from the day she was appointed.

However, she styled herself a Progressive Conservative even though that party in 2003 merged with the Canadian Alliance to form the modern Conservative Party of Canada. She wore the title as symbol of what she called her fiscal conservatism and more progressive social values.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement that McCoy was a persuasive and unapologetic advocate for the province's workers and energy sector.

That was on display in June 2019 when she rose in the Senate to speak against a government bill to enact an oil tanker moratorium along B.C.'s northern coast.

"No amount of public opinion should dictate to me what my job is. My job is to be the elder statesman," she said at the time.

"To hide behind the Senate's reputation or a particular group's reputation in the Senate is a dereliction of duty."

In 2016, she helped form the Independent Senators Group as the Trudeau Liberals looked to appoint senators that weren't officially tied to any party caucus. The ISG is now the largest caucus within the Senate.

Her friend and colleague, Senator Doug Black, described McCoy as "no nonsense."

"She was kind. She was smart. She was hard working. She could disagree and be very agreeable about it. She was hugely respected in the Senate because of that trait and has made an unbelievable contribution to our province over the years," Black said.

Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement Tuesday that he was saddened to learn of McCoy's death.

"Elaine was a persuasive and unapologetic advocate of Alberta workers, and the province's role as a responsible energy producer," he said.

"In recent years, senator McCoy faced significant health challenges, none of which stopped her from working hard to represent Albertans in the Parliament of Canada. For that, and for a lifetime of public service, I am deeply grateful."

Federal Opposition Leader Erin O'Toole said he was saddened to hear of the passing of a colleague.

"Her spirit and passion will be missed," he wrote on Twitter.

A message from the Speaker of the Senate, George Furey, says she will be greatly missed.

"She will always be remembered as a proud Albertan, an ardent defender of fairness, and a tireless champion for the people she represented," said Furey.