Simons was one of three new senators appointed to the Red Chamber along with Indigenous rights advocate Patti Laboucane-Benson of Spruce Grove and Peter Boehm of Ontario.
“These three new independent senators bring a wealth of experience with them to the Red Chamber,” said Trudeau in a news release. “Whether working as a community educator and researcher, a journalist, or an ambassador, all three have gained a deep appreciation and understanding of this country. I have full confidence that they will be excellent representatives for their regions and for all Canadians.”
Simons, an award-winning columnist with the newspaper, said she is thrilled and ready for the new challenge.
“I am both deeply honoured and extremely flabbergasted with the appointment,” she said. “I’ve spent my 17 years as a columnist analyzing and critiquing government policies and I hope to bring those same skills and that same objectivity to my work in the Senate. And I will go on being a passionate advocate for Edmonton and Alberta.”
Simons has been a powerful and important voice in Edmonton and in the province, holding governments to account on countless issues, most notably on child welfare. Part of the award-winning investigation by the Edmonton Journal into the deaths of hundreds of children under government care, Simons won a National Newspaper Award in May for her own tenacious reporting on the subject.
“Paula Simons is recognized as Edmonton’s conscience. While it sounds like a cliché to say, she has given voice to the voiceless and held the powerful accountable. There are few journalists who have done this as well as she has,” said Edmonton Journal editor-in-chief Mark Iype.
“Our newsroom’s loss is a gain for the country.”
Lucinda Chodan, vice-president, editorial, of Postmedia and a former editor-in-chief of the Journal, also lauded Simons for her work over the years.
“Paula is an extraordinary journalist, a passionate Edmontonian and a highly principled Canadian,” said Chodan. “I think this appointment reflects all of those qualities.”
Laboucane-Benson is the director of research, training and communications at Native Counselling Services of Alberta, where she’s worked to support the rights of Indigenous people in the justice, corrections and children’s services systems.
Métis and Ukrainian, she was one of 13 people appointed to serve on Alberta’s Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention, struck in 2017 to study the child welfare system in the wake of the death of a toddler named Serenity, who died in kinship care.
Originally from St. Paul, 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, Laboucane-Benson has a PhD in human ecology from the University of Alberta. She authored the 2015 graphic novel The Outside Circle, about escaping poverty, drugs and gangs.
Trudeau called her last week to tell her the news, she said in a Wednesday interview. The prime minister said she should bring an independent voice to the Senate, and isn’t expected to support every bill introduced by the Liberals.
Although she was excited to learn of her appointment, she’s grieving the end of her time with her colleagues at Native Counselling Services of Alberta, she said.
“My goal is to have a strong voice that is very community based and grassroots,” she said. “I want to represent the people that have been so important to me in my life.”