A Reflection on The Honourable Dr. Noël A. Kinsella: A Human Rights Advocate, Scholar and Parliamentarian

With the passing of the Honourable Dr. Noël A. Kinsella, New Brunswick has lost one of its greatest sons. An early keenness for academia led him abroad for his post-secondary education.

Though he would return home and pursue his career in New Brunswick, which was always an anchor for him. In addition to teaching and leading academic departments at St. Thomas University, he was the inaugural chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, a role he occupied for two decades.

I remember meeting then-Senator Kinsella as a student at St. Thomas University. In my second year, I enrolled in a human rights course taught by him. Too many other pursuits kept me from focusing properly and I failed the course. Somehow, he saw past my pure lack of academic discipline, and hired me in his Ottawa office after I managed to eek out a degree.
With the creation of new Conservative Party of Canada, Kinsella was elected by his Senate CPC colleagues to be Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, having previously been Deputy Leader and Whip. He served in that role until being selected by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to serve as Speaker of the Senate. This was one of Prime Minister Harper’s signature appointments.

He was the ideal occupant in this role: steadfast in his upholding of Senate procedures, respected by all Senators, regardless of affiliation, and affable. He delighted in hosting visiting organizations, and was active in the diplomatic component of the role, as the Speaker of the Senate is fourth in the Order of Precedence of Canada. He represented Canada abroad on numerous occasions.

He once led a delegation across the Libyan desert to meet Colonel Muammar Gaddafi; this was no courtesy call or acceptance of Gaddafi’s past sins. He wanted to learn about the reforms Libya had made, and also execute quiet diplomacy on sensitive files to which he lent his calm, intelligent approach. Speaker Kinsella recalled being driven to meet Gaddafi at remote encampment, and sitting with him in plastic lawn chairs, the kind found in so many Canadian backyards. Kinsella even managed to advocate for the potato industry, which is vital to New Brunswick’s economy.

The modesty he demonstrated was also of note. He would routinely state “my CV is in the vault” when mentioning a project or pursuit. He was not seeking recognition or another career track; he merely wanted to advocate worthwhile projects. One such example in which he was a prime mover was the fundraising campaign to establish Brian Mulroney Hall at St. Thomas University. To be clear, this was years before he became Speaker. His zeal, his rolodex and his vision brought the money in rapidly, and resulted in a beautiful facility, which the former prime minister visited in 2002, to participate in its official opening.
His work as Speaker of the Senate became especially vital as confidence in the Upper Chamber was eroding due to spending irregularities that became a lightning rod for criticism in 2013. His steady leadership was required, as was his belief in the rule of law. He believed that Senate reform, including the possibility of an elected Senate, was possible. When asked about Senate abolition, he provided words of wisdom that others may want to heed:

“All around the world the socialists are in the vanguard of protecting the people from the awesome power of the state,” he says. “And one of the barriers to the exercise of that awesome power is this nuisance called Parliament, and it’s doubly strong if you have two chambers.” (Being Noël Kinsella: A day in the life of the Senate Speaker – on the day charges are laid, by Laura Stone, Global News, February 10, 2014)

While he is known for his work, and that will occupy the historical account of the man, the love that he and his wife Ann shared was remarkable and sustained them both. Public life was a packaged deal: they did everything together and doted upon each other. Ann Kinsella also served her province and country as an unpaid public servant and diplomat, since they walked through this life hand-in-hand until he passed. Our hearts are with her.

Noël Kinsella has earned his rest. A champion of human rights and principled public policy, a staunch adherent to parliamentary procedure and the rule of law, and a man whose quiet dignity spoke volumes.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

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