Peggy Butts

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Peggy Butts

Mary Alice "Peggy" Butts (August 15, 1924 – March 6, 2004) served as a Canadian senator from September 23, 1997 to August 15, 1999.


Born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, on the Feast of the Assumption, Peggy was a Roman Catholic nun in the Sisters of Notre Dame order. She obtained several degrees, as a B.A. degree in philosophy, a B.A. degree in education, a M.A. degree in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa, and a Ph.D. degree in political philosophy from the University of Toronto. Through her life she served as a schoolteacher and high school principal. Later she was a professor at St. Francis Xavier University and the University College of Cape Breton (now Cape Breton University).

At the age of 73, Peggy was appointed to the Canadian Senate.[1] However, qualification laws for senators caused problems with her appointment. All Canadian senators are required to possess land worth at least $4,000 in the province for which he or she is appointed, as well as own real and personal property worth at least $4,000, above his or her debts and liabilities. Having taken a vow of poverty upon becoming a nun,[2] Butts was able to officially be sworn in only after her order formally transferred a small parcel of land to her name.[2] Butts resigned at the age of 75 as required by law,[1] and for her two years of service donated her entire salary to charity.[1]

Peggy Butts died at age 79 in 2004.[1]

Personal life[edit]

She had a strong influence on her nephew Gerald Butts, principal secretary to both Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.[3]


Peggy Butts received the Weiler Award in 1995 in recognition of her contributions to community and social development in Canada, and was awarded an honorary degree from St. Francis Xavier University in 1996.


  1. ^ a b c d Staff reporter (2004-03-10). "Sister Peggy Butts, Canadian activist, senator, dies at age 79". Catholic News Service. Retrieved 2008-02-12. A Canadian social activist who was the first nun to serve as a Canadian senator died March 7 at age 79. [...] Former prime minister Jean Chrétien appointed Sister Butts to the Senate in 1997 when she was 73. She resigned two years later after reaching the Senate retirement age of 75. During that time, she donated her government salary to the poor... 
  2. ^ a b Staff reporter (April 1998). "Canada's Upper House: Do We Need the Senate? - Constitutional Origins". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2008-02-12. But having taken a vow of poverty 40 years ago, she lacked the necessary $4000 in “real and personal property” that is stipulated in Section 23 of the Constitution Act of 1867. Upon this realization, the scramble was on to ensure her appointment, and a small parcel of land was transferred by her Montreal-based order into her name. 
  3. ^ Radwanski, Adam (September 3, 2016). "Gerald Butts: The BFF in the PMO". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 3, 2016. 

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