By Roger Smith
Andrew Cardozo may be better known in the Glebe as an artist, but his work as a self-described public policy wonk is why he’s now a senator. He learned of his appointment in a November call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“He really got to the point quite quickly,” recounted Cardozo in an interview. “He said ‘Hello, Andrew, how’s your day going?’ Then he said, ‘I’m appointing you to the Senate,’ and he outlined why he thought I’d be a good senator. That was extremely flattering.”
Cardozo has headed the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy since 2013. He’s been a columnist for the Toronto Star and Hill Times, served as a CRTC commissioner and taught at the Carleton School of Journalism. He’s also been active in the volunteer sector.
His work has focused on three areas: diversity, immigration and anti-racism; broadcasting and telecommunications; and skills development and the future of work. At age 66, he’s thrilled to have nine years, until mandatory retirement at 75, to pursue his policy interests in the Upper Chamber.
“It’s the ultimate place for a public policy nerd like me,” he says. “It’s like the ultimate think tank, but with voting powers.”
Cardozo applied for the job in 2021 and believes the new selection process has largely purged the Senate of its old reputation as a patronage reward for political pals of the party in power.
“The way I look at it,” he says, “these independent senators are really taking their responsibilities very seriously.” Cardozo names former senators Murray Sinclair, who headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Landon Pearson, a children’s’ rights advocate, as role models he hopes to emulate.
His paternal roots go back to Goa on India’s southwest coast. When it was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century, many Hindus were converted to Catholicism and given Portuguese names – that’s how his ancestors became Cardozo. He was 18, living with his parents in Karachi, Pakistan, when the family immigrated to Toronto in 1974.
His mom and dad are both gone now, but in the 20 minutes he waited after being told to expect a phone call from the prime minister, Cardozo found himself emotionally overwhelmed with thoughts of his parents and all they did for him. He teared up again and took a long pause to compose himself when I asked what his mother and father would think of his appointment. “I think they would be extremely pleased and satisfied and in awe.”
After doing an undergraduate degree in political science at York University, Cardozo came to Ottawa in 1980 to do his master’s in public administration at Carleton. He’s lived in the Glebe since 1998, starting on First Avenue, then moving to Adelaide in 2010. Both his kids – a 33-year-old daughter and 32-year-old son – attended First Avenue and Glebe Collegiate.
In 2005, Cardozo participated in a team-building exercise at work, led by an artist who had the participants try painting. He liked it, felt he had some potential and his like of it soon turned to love.
“I asked my family for nothing but paints and canvases that Christmas,” he says. “I was hooked.”
He still has a sense of wonder at what he’s learned, saying every time he finishes a painting, “I’m amazed it’s turned out so well.” Most of his work is what he calls “abstract landscape.” He exhibits at galleries around Ottawa and is a regular participant in the Glebe art in our gardens tour, where he hit a career high last summer by selling seven paintings in one day.
“And it was all to people who didn’t know me, not friends who were doing me a favour. That was fun.”
While he plans to keep painting, Cardozo has other more immediate priorities after being officially sworn in at a ceremony in the Senate chamber on November 29. He must learn how the Senate works, hire staff and decide which group of senators to align with and which committees to serve on, all while getting ready to apply his own “sober second thought” to legislation from the House of Commons. But the first challenge may be getting used to his new status and the way he is treated by Senate staff.
“The first meeting I went to,” he says, “two people shook my hand and said, ‘Hello, Senator.’ I said ‘Please, just call me Andrew.’ And they said, ‘No, no, no, we have to call you Senator’.”
Roger Smith is a former broadcast and print journalist and the Glebe Report’s copy editor.