Jim Cowan

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The Honourable
Jim Cowan
Senator for Nova Scotia
In office
March 24, 2005 – January 22, 2017
Nominated by Paul Martin
Appointed by Adrienne Clarkson
Leader of the Independent Senate Liberals
In office
January 29, 2014 – June 15, 2016
Succeeded by Hon. Joseph A. Day
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
In office
November 3, 2008 – November 4, 2015
Preceded by Céline Hervieux-Payette
Succeeded by Claude Carignan
Personal details
Born (1942-01-22) January 22, 1942 (age 75)
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Nationality Canadian
Political party Liberal (until 2014)
Independent Liberal
Spouse(s) Shelagh Cowan
Children Robert, David, Peter and Suzanne
Alma mater Dalhousie University
London School of Economics
Occupation lawyer
Profession politician
Committees Standing Committee of Selection, Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
Portfolio Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

James S. "Jim" Cowan, QC (born January 22, 1942) was a Canadian lawyer, a senator from Nova Scotia from 2008 to 2017, and was Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 2008 to 2015 and leader of the Independent Liberal caucus until June 15, 2016. A lawyer, Cowan has been a partner at the legal firm of Stewart McKelvey since 1967. He retired on January 22, 2017, having reached the mandatory retirement age for senators.


He received a Bachelor of Arts degree and Bachelor of Law degree from Dalhousie University, where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. He recoeved his Master of Laws degree in 1966 from the London School of Economics.

Nova Scotia politics[edit]

In November 1985, Cowan announced he would seek the leadership of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party,[1] but was defeated by Vince MacLean at the February 1986 leadership convention.[2]


He was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Paul Martin on March 24, 2005 as a Liberal Party of Canada Senator. In 2008, he was appointed Leader of the Opposition in the Senate of Canada

In 2012, it was reported that Cowan and other Senate leaders allowed Senator Joyce Fairbairn to continue voting on legislative matters for four months after she was declared legally incompetent due to dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease.[3]

Leader of the Independent Senate Liberal Caucus[edit]

On January 29, 2014, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau announced all Liberal Senators, including Cowan, were removed from the Liberal caucus, and would continue sitting as Independents.[4] The Senators continued to refer to themselves as the Senate Liberal Caucus even if they are no longer members of the parliamentary Liberal caucus.[5] Liberal senators reaffirmed Cowan as their leader in 2014 through internal elections.[6]

When the Liberal Party formed government following the 2015 federal election, new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not appoint Senator Cowan as Government Senate Leader. The position was replaced with the Representative of the Government in the Senate and assigned to independent Senator Peter Harder leaving Cowan as leader of the Independent Liberal caucus.[7] Cowan stepped down as Liberal Senate Caucus leader on June 15, 2016. He retired from the Senate upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75 on January 22, 2017.


Samuel Rettie is Cowan's great-great uncle.[8]


  1. ^ "Halifax lawyer seeking N.S. Liberal leadership". The Globe and Mail, November 2, 1985.
  2. ^ "New N.S. Liberal leader expects to get ammunition from Ottawa". The Globe and Mail, February 24, 1986.
  3. ^ “Alberta senator allowed to vote four months after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” Global News, August 27, 2012.
  4. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-removes-senators-from-liberal-caucus-1.2515273
  5. ^ "Trudeau’s expulsion catches Liberal senators by surprise". Globe and Mail. January 29, 2014. Retrieved January 29, 2014. 
  6. ^ Senators reaffirm Sen. Cowan as leader of Liberal Senate caucus, to hold formal Senate elections in future, Hill Times; “Senate Liberals to elect new leader and new caucus executive in next session of Parliament,” Hill Times, June 29, 2015.
  7. ^ "Justin Trudeau names seven new senators". The Toronto Star, March 18, 2016.
  8. ^ Cowan, Mrs. Gordon (1966–1967), Notes on the Rettie family of Truro, Nova Scotia, Dalhousie University Archives, File MS-2-173, SF Box 14, Folder 7, retrieved September 14, 2013 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Céline Hervieux-Payette
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate of Canada
2008 - 2015
Succeeded by
Claude Carignan