Canada’s female athlete of the 20th century once joked that she’d never accept the many overtures to enter federal politics because she’d lose her soul leaving B.C. for a city without nearby mountains.
But Nancy Greene Raine said she has no regrets as she finishes her fourth year in the Senate since Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision a few days before Christmas in 2008, with his minority government facing potential defeat, to appoint 18 new Conservatives to the upper chamber.
The Ottawa-born Greene Raine — her father, a mining engineer in Rossland, B.C., was seconded by the government to the nation’s capital during the Second World War — is recognized among colleagues as one of Harper’s most diligent new members.
Greene Raine, the gold and silver medal-winning Olympian in 1968 and winner of 13 other World Cup events, researches and writes her own speeches, including two that qualify her as one of Parliament’s most outspoken climate change skeptics.
And she is able to apply some unique first-hand experience to the complex first nations file, thanks to her experience with husband Al Raine in two ski resort developments in B.C. that became the targets of environmental and aboriginal protests.
She can bring that experience to Parliament as a member of the Senate aboriginal peoples committee, which has produced some important and influential reports on first nations issues, including the stalled B.C. land claims process.
That Senate committee’s work has reinforced her view that Preston Manning, the first politician to ever win her public endorsement, went too far in portraying the upper chamber as a bastion for lazy, boozing cronies of their leader-benefactors.
The Reform party founder used to deliver speeches on an institution that thrived on “protocol, alcohol and Geritol,” and he dined out on the disclosure in the 1990s that one Liberal senator, Andrew Thompson, was drawing a salary while living in Mexico. His MPs hired a mariachi band and handed out burritos outside the Senate chamber to publicize Reform’s call for Senate reform.
“Preston Manning is a great man,” Greene Raine said, before suggesting he engaged in excessive hyperbole by focusing on the Thompson scandal.
“The crazy thing is, one senator did that. All the rest are working. But that is still there in the public’s mind, because he used to say it over and over. It became the image of the Senate.”
Those in the Senate say she arrived here in early 2009 with an obvious lack of political savvy or public policy expertise, but with an eagerness to learn. Liberal Senator Jim Munson, a former TV journalist who sits on the aboriginal peoples committee, said he’s impressed.
“Nancy Greene Raine is one hard-working senator, devoted to a number of issues from fitness to aboriginal rights and more,” according to Munson.
Greene Raine, 69, also has had no reticence about doing interviews despite being a member of a mostly media gun-shy caucus. Fellow 2008 B.C. appointee Yonah Martin, for instance, refused several requests by The Vancouver Sun to schedule an interview in 2012.
Greene Raine’s two climate change speeches, one in March (http://sen.parl.gc.ca/nraine/pdf/BillS205-e.pdf) and the other in June of 2011 (http://sen.parl.gc.ca/nraine/pdf/BillS205-e.pdf), reflect a long-standing antipathy between Greene Raine and some elements of the Canadian environmental movement.
Back in the 1970s she was criticized for allegedly tossing a Mars Bar wrapper on a ski hill during an ad — an allegation she refutes, saying the appearance of the wrapper being tossed aside was the result of an “editing issue.”
In the 1990s and 2000s two ski developments she and her husband promoted were subjected to high-profile first nations protests, and in one of those cases the protests were prompted, she said, by “radical” environmentalists from Vancouver. In both speeches she called on the Senate to do a climate change study that better reflects both sides of the politically sensitive debate, though so far no one has taken her up on that offer.
“I think it would be a very good subject for the Senate,” she told The Vancouver Sun.
Greene Raine said she adopted her views after hearing a speech by Tim Ball, one of Canada’s most prominent climate change skeptics.
Asked about comments from environmentalists that Hurricane Sandy was a result of greenhouse gas-caused climate change, Greene Raine sent The Vancouver Sun an essay produced this week with Ball’s assistance by the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition, a group devoted to “publicizing the repercussions of misguided plans to ‘solve the climate crisis.’”
Greene Raine, who turned down pitches by the Liberal and Reform parties to run for a federal seat, has also been outspoken in the Senate about Canada’s obesity problem.
Unlike many Conservatives she speaks positively about the Ontario Medical Association’s recent call for a special tax and graphic warning labels for junk food.
“I think it should definitely be explored,” she said.
“I mean, one cent a litre on soft drinks could help fund mandatory daily physical education in our schools.”