Joyce Fairbairn

Joyce Fairbairn, PC CM (born November 6, 1939) was a Canadian senator and was the first woman to serve as Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Joyce Fairbairn

Senator for Lethbridge, Alberta
In office
June 29, 1984  January 18, 2013
Appointed byJeanne Sauvé
Personal details
Born (1939-11-06) November 6, 1939
Lethbridge, Alberta
Political partyLiberal

Fairbairn worked as a journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa before being hired as a legislative assistant to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1970. In 1981, she became Communications Coordinator in the Prime Minister's Office. On June 29, 1984, just prior to leaving office, Trudeau recommended her for appointment as a Liberal senator for Alberta, her home province.

She has also had various positions in the Liberal Party, including Vice-Chair of the National and Western Liberal Caucus from 1984 to 1990, and Co-chair of the Liberal Party of Canada Election Readiness Committee in 1991.

When the Liberals returned to power after the 1993 election, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Fairbairn to the Canadian Cabinet as Government Leader in the Senate and Minister with special responsibility for Literacy. She served in Cabinet until 1997. She has been Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, and the Special Senate Committee on the Anti-terrorism Act. She sat on the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry until June 2012.[1]

In August 2012, it was reported that Fairbairn has taken indefinite sick leave from the Senate due to the onset of Alzheimer's disease.[1] It was subsequently revealed that Fairbairn had been declared legally incompetent in February but had continued voting in the Senate until June.[2] The Fairbairn case has led to calls for the Senate to establish rules to address similar situations should they arise in the future.[3] It was announced on November 30, 2012, that she had tendered her resignation to the Governor General with effect from January 18, 2013.[4]

She was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2015.[5]

On March 11, 2018, it was announced that the new middle school in Lethbridge, Alberta would be named after Fairbairn.[6] It will be named the Senator Joyce Fairbairn Middle School, and is set to open in the fall of 2018.


  1. McGregor, Glen (August 22, 2012). "Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn to take sick leave after Alzheimer's diagnosis". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  2. "Liberal senator Fairbairn allowed to vote months after dementia diagnosis". The Star Phoenix. August 27, 2012. Retrieved August 29, 2012.
  3. Smith, Joanna (August 28, 2012). "Joyce Fairbairn's voting shakes public's confidence, says Tory senator". Toronto Star. Retrieved August 29, 2012.
  4. Galloway, Gloria (November 30, 2012). "Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn set to retire following dementia diagnosis". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
  5. "Four Nova Scotians among Order of Canada honourees". The Chronicle-Herald, July 1, 2015.
  6. "New public middle school named after Senator Joyce Fairbairn". The Lethbridge Herald - News and Sports from around Lethbridge. 2018-03-12. Retrieved 2018-04-13.
26th Ministry – Cabinet of Jean Chrétien
Cabinet post (1)
Predecessor Office Successor
Lowell Murray Leader of the Government in the Senate
Alasdair Graham
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