OTTAWA — “You are the individual who is going to be the driver of your destiny.”
Don Meredith was holding court in the ornate Senate chamber, the high water mark of a career and a life that had taken him from Jamaica, to church pulpits as an ordained minister, to serving as a mentor to marginalized young people, and finally to this, a seat in Senate.
Meredith had a rapt audience that day in November, 2011, as a Toronto Star story at the time related — young people from Toronto’s Jane-Finch and Rexdale neighbourhoods.
“Don’t tell me that you cannot make it in this country. You’re looking at someone who has,” he told them.
Now the role model is under a cloud. Meredith, whose talents were once touted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is facing an uncertain future after allegations he had a sexual relationship with a teenager during the past two years.
Meredith came into the political spotlight in 2008, when he was named as the Conservative candidate in a byelection in Toronto Centre, replacing the previous Tory candidate, Mark Warner. Meredith finished fourth, capturing just 12 per cent of the vote in a race won by Liberal Bob Rae.
But Meredith had caught the eye of Harper and Conservative strategists and he was named to the Senate in December 2010, along with former CFL player Larry Smith. Meredith was the first ever Jamaican appointed to the Senate.
“Both are well-regarded and visible figures in their communities who will bring a wealth of experience in business, philanthropy, sport and community initiatives to their new roles as senators,” Harper said in making the appointments.
Meredith came to Ottawa with an impressive resume — ordained minister, volunteer pastor at the Pentecostal Praise Centre Ministries in Vaughan, co-founder of the Greater Toronto Faith Alliance Centre.
Sen. Jim Munson worked with Meredith on the fisheries and oceans committee.
“He asked all good kinds of questions as a committee member. He did his job here,” said Munson, who called the allegations against Meredith “sickening.”
“He was doing his work here,” Munson said.
Meredith used his website to highlight his Senate activities, which he said included a focus on strategies to overcome the alienation of young people.
His latest newsletter, titled “Meredith in Motion,” offers a window into Senate work, featuring pictures of him with Harper, Gov. Gen. David Johnston and meeting with various groups on Parliament Hill.
The newsletter also noted the successful passage of his initiative to make Jan. 21 “Lincoln Alexander Day” in honour of the former MP and lieutenant-governor of Ontario.
In almost five years in the Senate, Meredith has been on a fact-finding trip to the Maritimes, Norway and Scotland as part of his work on the fisheries and oceans committee, joined Trade Minister Ed Fast on a trade trip to Africa and led a business delegation to Jamaica.
He had also courted controversy as a senator even before this week.
In 2014, he came under fire after expensing to the Senate a trip with his wife to Washington, D.C. to attend a National Prayer Breakfast. Meredith defended the trip on his website, saying, “I broke no rules, I did nothing wrong.” He repaid the funds.
He also faced questions for using the honorific “Dr. Don Meredith,” claiming an honorary doctorate in divinity from the Canadian Christian Clinical Counsellors’ Association.
More recently, the Senate has launched a special review of Meredith’s office, concerned about the level of staff turnover. CTV News has reported that Meredith is facing allegations from staff members of verbal abuse, sexual harassment and bullying.
Today, he numbers among the growing list of Harper’s Senate appointees — Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy — who have been sidelined by questions about their conduct and expenses.
- With files from The Canadian Press