Senator Donald Oliver
Nova Scotia's Senator
|Biography - The Honourable Donald H. Oliver, Q.C.|
As a barrister, teacher, entrepreneur, advocate and statesman, Senator Donald H. Oliver has served the peoples of Nova Scotia and Canada with honour, distinction and achievement for more than 40 years.
After graduating from Dalhousie University and being called to Bar in Nova Scotia, Senator Oliver built a highly successful practice as a civil litigator and taught law at several universities. Later, as a highly respected member of the Conservative Caucus and chair of Senate Standing Committees, he has advanced public policy in areas ranging from finance, agriculture, forestry, communications and transportation to banking, trade, commerce, human rights and employment equity.
In addition, Senator Oliver established and now leads two companies, is considered an expert on corporate governance and is a director of or consultant to several Canadian corporations. He also continues to volunteer his time and expertise to community and cultural organizations throughout Canada and has earned three honorary doctorates and other prestigious awards in recognition of his service.
And throughout his career, Senator Oliver has promoted equal opportunities for Black Canadians and other visible minorities through his fervent and influential advocacy. Most recently, he raised $500,000 to lead the first-ever national study conducted in Canada that definitively proves the business case for diversity. He has since spoken to dozens of audiences throughout Canada, South America, the United Kingdom and Europe about the urgency of fostering diverse and inclusive organizational cultures.
Senator Oliver's lifelong dedication to public service is rooted in his early upbringing and education. He was born in Wolfville, Nova Scotia to Clifford and Helena Oliver, devout Baptists who raised their five children in a strict but loving household. Their family life was largely governed by work, religion and music - values which defined the purpose of the children's activities and the nature of their achievements. The Senator and his brother and sisters learned to embrace work as an opportunity to succeed and to serve others.
Their family's devotional practices also focussed on community and service of others. And music, a source of joy in the Oliver household, was likewise shared within the larger community. Helena Oliver, sister of the renowned contralto Portia White, was an accomplished musician and teacher. The Senator has vivid memories of musical evenings at home, particularly those occasions when he and his siblings gathered at the top of the stairs to listen as Helena Oliver accompanied Portia White on the parlour piano.
After graduating from Wolfville High School in 1956, Senator Oliver majored in history at Acadia University and completed a minor in both philosophy and English literature. He graduated with honours in 1960, earning the Ralph M. Hunt Prize in Political Science and delivered the valedictorian address.
Unsure of what he wanted to do next, Senator Oliver enrolled in a graduate program in philosophy at Acadia and considered his options. Clifford Oliver hoped his son would consider theology with an eventual career in the Church, for that was a strong tradition in both his and his wife's family. But the Senator's interest in philosophy and theories of justice in particular, had drawn his attention in a very different direction. In 1961, Senator Oliver enrolled in the Faculty of Law at Dalhousie University as a Sir James Dunn scholar. He graduated three years later, receiving the G.O. Forsythe Prize for Scholarship and Character.
In 1965, Senator Oliver was called to the Bar of Nova Scotia and began to practice law with the prestigious Halifax law firm, Stewart McKelvey Stirling and Scales. Over the next 36 years, he also worked with two other firms, primarily in the field of civil litigation. In addition to his practice, the Senator taught law at Dalhousie Law School, Saint Mary's University and the Technical University of Nova Scotia. From 1976 until 1990, he also gave pre-retirement seminars and lectured on wills and estate planning for the Nova Scotia Department of Education.
Throughout his legal career, Senator Oliver remained active in the professional community. He was Director of the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia, a member of several Society committees, and a panellist and lecturer at the Nova Scotia Bar Society Refresher Courses.
Beyond his professional involvements, Senator Oliver consistently donated his knowledge and expertise to a broad range of community organizations and societies. Notably, he served as President and Chairman of the Halifax Children's Aid Society and was Director of the National Youth Orchestra, the Junior Achievement of Halifax, the Alumni Association of Acadia University, the Dalhousie University Alumni Association, the Atlantic Ballet Company and the Halifax-Dartmouth Welfare Council. He served as Chairman, President, and Director of the Neptune Theatre Foundation, was Director of the Community Business Initiative Advisory Board, and a Director for the Federal Business Development Bank. Senator Oliver remains active in a number of community organizations within the Nova Scotia Black community.
While a student at Acadia University, Senator Oliver's academic achievements brought him to the attention of then Nova Scotia Premier, Robert Stanfield. Over time, the two men became close friends and political allies, primarily due to the significant philosophical similarities between Stanfield's brand of Toryism and the strong sense of social responsibility at the core of Senator Oliver's political ideas.
When Premier Stanfield retired from political life, he confided to Senator Oliver that one of his deepest regrets was not having worked more vigorously to promote equality of opportunity for the Black people of Nova Scotia and members of the First Nations. He bequeathed that responsibility to Senator Oliver, encouraging him to consider more active participation in the Conservative Party.
Over the years, Senator Oliver has responded generously to Premier Stanfield's behest. For more than forty years, he was active in the Progressive Conservative Party, serving as Director, Legal Affairs in six General Elections and assuming numerous roles and responsibilities within the Party's executive.
On September 7, 1990, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney summoned him to the Senate of Canada. Since his arrival in the Senate, Senator Oliver has served as a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce; Chairman of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs; Chair of the Standing Committee on National Finance; Chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry; Chair of the Standing Committee on Transport and Communications. Senator Oliver was Co-chair of the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on a Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians. He has worked on a number of Private Members' Bills, including a bill to amend sections of the criminal code dealing with stalking and, more recently, a bill to address the issue of SPAM.
He is currently on the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications as Co-Chair; the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament; the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights; and the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Senator Oliver's commitment to human rights and equality for all Canadians is reflected in both his community service and his frequent public speaking engagements. He is also a stalwart advocate of corporate responsibility. Most recently, Senator Oliver spearheaded a Conference Board of Canada study entitled: Business Critical: Maximizing the Talents of Visible Minorities. This research provides a sobering reminder that systemic barriers to employment equity endure in Canada's public and private sectors.
In addition, Senator Oliver is engaged in a number of business, investment and management projects. He is President of Glen Moir Holdings Ltd., a real estate investment company with holdings across Canada. Senator Oliver is also President of Pleasant River Farms Limited, a Christmas Tree Farm that exports trees to the United States, Mexico and South America. Furthermore, he is President of Dolin Fisheries; a director of a number of Canadian companies and provides management consulting services. Senator Oliver has served on the Advisory Board of AT&T Canada, and is a frequent lecturer on corporate governance and business ethics.
Senator Oliver is married and has one daughter. He enjoys golfing, skiing, gardening and cooking. When not in Ottawa, Senator Oliver resides on his farm in Queens County, Nova Scotia.