09.01.2012 08:30 PM

in Sunday’s Sun: leave Joyce alone

Non compos mentis is the Latin term. It means “not of sound mind.”

It’s a legal phrase, mainly, although physicians use it as well.

If a person is confused or intoxicated or — per the definition — not of sound mind, their capacity to make decisions is considered to be impaired.

Non compos mentis, much of the country would agree, is a term that could be applied with great frequency to our lawmakers in Ottawa. From Whitehorse to Witless Bay, from Coal Harbour to Charlottetown, the nation is generally in agreement: Most days, they all seem a bit confused, down there in Ottawa.

Mental capacity, and the lack of it, was much discussed in and around Ottawa last week. An Alberta Liberal senator, Joyce Fairbairn, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

After she was diagnosed — and after a maladroit Liberal Senate staffer, Len Kuchar, agreed to act as an agent on Fairbairn’s behalf — apparently little was done. For a few weeks, she continued to work in the Senate, including participation in a dozen votes.

Fairbairn is a wonderful, elegant, graceful woman, one with whom I had the great pleasure to work, years ago. She has devoted her entire adult life to public service, since the ’60s. She is now taking extended sick leave and is unlikely to be back.

Despite that, the Conservative Party has elected to target Fairbairn, darkly hinting that she could be removed and that an actual constitutional crisis has been created by l’affaire Fairbairn.


  1. smelter rat says:

    Conservatives are evil assholes. That’s all anyone really needs to know.

  2. Warren……From what I have read, and I read them all, it is only the Liberals that are fouling up here, and you, by writing about this again, are keeping at it.

  3. Kevin Powell says:

    I got to know Sen. Fairbairn while living in Lethbridge, and active in the LIberal party. I’ve always known her to be a dedicated public servant, who works hard on behalf of those whom she serves. If the Cons go after her for her medical condition, it will be a definite new low. One that voters won’t forget.

  4. W.B. says:

    Hey Warren, sorry, but I’m recycling a great comment I put on another site a few days ago:

    You would think our national level pundit class would have been astute enough to see that this issue was extremely difficult and complex and just wasn’t worth opening in order to allow the Conservatives to take a few cheap shots at the Senate Liberals. And that this personal, medical, psychological quagmire on dementia and competency, and all the variable, unknowable time factors within each unique case, were not going settle one single thing about The Senate or Senate Liberals.

    • Jim Hanna says:

      In total agreement with W.B. and very well written. I was a bit uncomfortable myself with how the staffers handle it, but to drag what must be a very stressful and tragic personal matter for Senator Fairbairn and her family into a national story is abominable.
      Ive met Senator Fairbairn and she is a hardworking, caring and dedicated public servant; she once intervened for my family when I was a teenager (and my Dad, a lifelong Conservative) because the Tory MP/Cabinet Minister wouldn’t take our calls. Didn’t change my Dad’s opinions of Liberals much I have to say, but she helped anyway. A truly remarkable woman.

  5. Ottawa civil servant says:

    And now, for something completely different: The rest of the story. The Liberals have abused this woman’s poor health for their own purposes.
    If you care, I encourage you to read the details rather than rely on Kinsella’s spin:


    • WDM says:

      I think there are Liberals and Conservatives who’ve acted in bad faith here. Martin is entitled to his opinion, but I thought his decision to add in anonymous anecdotes of Sen. Fairbairn (being on Sparks St and the Airport) were entirely unnecessary and mean spirited.

  6. Bruce says:


    I think you are wrong in your analysis, as contained in your now-published column. I personally have tremendous empathy for Sen. Fairburn, who I met on several occasions and who was of great assistance in pushing forward a bill that became law…an “S” bill as opposed to a “C” bill. She is a wonderful person. Having had both parents, now deceased, suffer from Alheizers, being the caregiver for my mother in that situation for five years prior to her death last year, and now dealing with a wife with MS who has now developed early-onset Alzheimers or its cousin, MS-related cognitive disfunction, I fully understand the heartache that sufferers are forced to endure.

    But I have not seen any evidence whatever that the Tories have directed any attacks against Sen. Fairburn, or have demonstrated anything but sympathy for her plight. What appalls me is the cynical and utterly shameless manner that she appears to be exposed to by that that Liberal staffer that you rightly have noted, and the party in general for exploiting her and unnecessarily subjecting her to further losses of her dignity in what must already be unbearable circumstances for her.

    This is a very sad chapter in Canadian politics; a number of people should be very ashamed of themselves.

  7. Iris Mclean says:

    It looks to me that Ms. Fairbairn was seriously let down by all her “friends” in Ottawa.

  8. What Iris said………definitely!!

  9. Cynical says:

    There are many explanations for the behaviour (of Liberals) described in the Kay article. If I had a friend struggling with the beginnings of Alzheimers (as I did), I would do everything in my power to assist him/her in maintaing as normal a life as possible for as long as possible. If that meant driving the person to work and helping them through a work day, fine. People’s motivations are not always unprincipled.

    Fairbairn has been a model of public service and a fine Albertan and Canadian. She’d have made a good choice for GG, IMHO, in her prime.

  10. Carolyn in Toronto says:

    I think because you have had the very distinct pleasure of knowing Sen Fairbairn personally is perhaps clouding some people’s perspective on this issue.
    What the public, who did not know her personally, but applaud her outstanding public service are concerned with is how this whole situation is being handled.
    This is not just a drop into the office kind of job but one which sets legislation that affects all Canadians.
    Because of that and because most compassionate Canadians care about Sen Fairbairn’s future this is a sensitive and complex circumstance.
    Hopefully it may instigate some serious thought , leadership and decisions for the future of the Senate itself.

  11. mikejacobson says:

    you have it all wrong….Sen Fairbairn is off limits to politico b.s. that is being espoused here….and it is laughable that she is being made “poster girl” of all things wrong with the government. The fact of the matter is;it doesn’t matter what state of mind her or anyone else is in….as long as they can lift their hand when they here their party call.

  12. mikejacobson says:

    and ‘here’ is a play on words for anyone who cares

  13. mikejacobson says:

    the whole senate is a sham….lets just recognize the elephant in the room….

  14. mikejacobson says:

    “non compos mentis”…perhaps liberal senator Rod Zimmer?…just saying….either the senate is elected or it must go!

  15. ralphie says:

    It’s all about creating one Liberal scandal after another in the media. The Tory war room feeds one story after another to the media who just eat it up. The Tories have the money to keep their war room going 365 days a year while the Libs shut down after the election.

    Hey Warren, did you see the story in the Ottawa Citizen on the weekend about the wife of Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Paladeau travelling with the PQ leader during the campaign? Nobody wants to talk about how Paladeau makes millions selling hard right news in English Canada while he backs the PQ in Quebec. Nobody picked up the Ottawa Citizen story and Bourque News took it off their website.

    The Toronto media have ignored the Vaughan by-election because Del Duca is going to win there. Instead they’ll focus on finding bad news for Dalton if he doesn’t win KW. I hope that the provincial Libs finally get that Tim Hudak and the Tories aren’t the competition in urban Ontario. It’s Horwath and the NDP you need to start focussing on because they’re splitting the Lib vote and media is playing up the so called war between the Libs and the teachers. Horwath now comes out on top in the polls as the most popular leader in Ontario. I love the NDP signs in the by-election that say “Leadership that Delivers”. What has Horwath delivered? Hudak on the other hand is so unpopular that the Kitchener Record even reported that the Tory candidate in KW wouldn’t say his name. Time to start pointing to the fact that Horwath and her party have no plan for Ontario.
    Three way contests are never a good situation for the Liberals so we’ll see what happens on Thursday in KW. If I were Dalton I wouldn’t be happy about giving Liz Witmer such a plumb job and not getting a majority back by taking her former seat.

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