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Sorensen named to Canadian Senate, Banff council to select new mayor

“While I never intended to leave the role of mayor before this term was complete, I am confident in the abilities of our very thoughtful and diverse Council, and I am comforted knowing a municipal election is only a few months away. And while I will be spending part of my time in Ottawa, Banff has and will always have my heart."
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Town of Banff mayor Karen Sorensen addresses speaks at the opening of the Roam Transit Operations and Training Centre in Banff on Tuesday (June 29). The new facility is a net zero carbon emissions building and heated by biomass energy district heating system. Roam Transit also unveiled three new battery electric buses. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – Longtime Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen resigned as the town’s mayor after she was appointed to the Canadian Senate Thursday morning (July 29).

The sudden announcement will leave the mayor’s chair empty until council decides at its Aug. 9 meeting on how to fill the mayor's role as Sorensen begins her term in the Senate.

“The Senate plays an important role in examining legislation. I really look forward to settling into my new position and reviewing the bills that are under consideration by the Senate," said Sorensen.

"The prime minister underlined the fact I'll be able to contribute to the work of the Senate in an independent and non-partisan fashion, which is, of course, part of the Senate reform…It's such a different level of conversation than we would see at a municipality.”

Sorensen said she had been reading up on recently passed bills such as C-7 to expand the resources for medically assisted deaths, C-15 on implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people and C-6 on amending the Criminal Code of Canada in respect to conversion therapy.

“It's big topics that impact all Canadians, and I'm really looking forward to the discussion on these topics," she said.

Sorensen said she had gone through the application process and had a security interview earlier in the summer. She received a call on July 23 from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking if she would sit as a senator for Alberta on the Canadian Senate.

She signed the formal documentation Thursday (July 29).

Sorensen was first elected as a councillor in 2004 and has been the mayor of Banff the past 11 years. She had previously announced she wasn’t running for re-election in the upcoming October election.

She has also served as a school board trustee, was part of the creation of the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission and chaired or served on numerous committees.

Canadian senators are appointed by the Governor General of Canada after a recommendation by the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments. The selection is on a merit-based process to serve in the Upper House of Canada’s parliament.

It consists of 105 senators and they are assigned on the specific number of seats for each province. The role previously represented regional interests, but now includes advocating for underrepresented people and new initiatives.

Senators also debate legislation proposed by Members of Parliament or presented by other senators.

“I am pleased to welcome Parliament’s newest independent Senators,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a media release. “Their combined experience, perspectives, and dedication to serving Canadians will further strengthen the Senate and help shape our country’s future. I look forward to working with them, and all Senators, as we take steps toward our recovery and to building back a more resilient and inclusive Canada for everyone.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney derided the decision, calling it "contempt for democracy," since the Alberta government previously said they were holding elections for Senate nominations despite it being a federal decision.

Sorensen will take up one of the two vacant Alberta Senate seats following the resignation of former senator Grant Mitchell in April 2020 and senator Elaine McCoy's death in December.

The Municipal Government Act stipulates a municipal council member can’t hold an elected office if they’re appointed to the Senate.

Banff Town Manager Kelly Gibson thanked Mayor Sorensen for her service on council and for her time as mayor of Banf.

“Our community has benefited greatly from her leadership, dedication, and passion. She’s helped to make Banff a better place," he said in a news release.

"We also offer our heartfelt congratulations on her new role as Senator (for) Alberta, where we know she will continue to serve with the same tenacity that she has on council.”

The appointment means Banff council will decide to have one or more councillors serve the remaining three months of the mayor’s term. That decision will be made at the next council meeting on Aug. 9.

Sorensen said the appointment is also bittersweet since while it’s a higher impact position, it also means leaving her position as mayor earlier than expected.

“I can definitely say I have thoroughly enjoyed what I consider a huge privilege to serve the residents of Banff for the number of years that I have. There's a number of areas I am incredibly proud of that we have moved forward.”

She noted the growth of Roam Transit, the expansion of the housing inventory in Banff and the environmental initiatives as positives.

“I have always seen it as a huge privilege to be the mayor of Banff. It's a unique municipality and therefore the role of mayor and council is unique to, from my perspective, any other municipality in Canada,” she said. “It has been a real joy.”