The Honourable Catherine S. Callbeck—Expression of Thanks Upon RetirementPublished on 18 June 2014 Hansard and Statements by Senator Catherine Callbeck (retired)
Hon. Catherine S. Callbeck:
Honourable senators, I want to express my sincere appreciation for the wonderful tributes today. I feel very humbled by your kind and generous words. They bring back a lot of memories; and yes, Senator Cowan, I remember those tigers. So thank you all very much.
First of all, I want to thank the members of my immediate family and extended family for their support over the years. I’m sure it isn’t easy to have a member of your family in public office.
In leaving the Senate, I leave with a great deal of respect for this institution and its members, and I will forever cherish my time spent here.
It’s been an honour and a privilege to serve with all of you. Although we have not always agreed with one another, I have always tried to listen with an open mind and with great respect. Many of our life experiences and our concerns may be different, but we are all determined to improve the daily lives of Canadians.
It has been a distinct pleasure for me to represent the people of Prince Edward Island in this institution. I want to express my deep appreciation to the many Islanders who have supported and encouraged me over the years. I have always been mindful of my responsibilities to stand up in the Senate and raise issues that are of importance to Islanders and to represent their views on the major issues of the day.
I truly believe the Senate performs a very valuable and useful function. As I reflect on my time here, I have always been aware of why the Senate was established with equal representation for the regions and what it is intended to do as the chamber of sober second thought. As an appointed body, we can look at the issues in a fair and objective manner to ensure that the wishes of Canadians are taken into account. This is one of the things that make the Senate such a unique institution.
The Senate is a place whose value has not been fully appreciated by the public. In my experience, the Senate is the most misunderstood institution in Canada, and it has often been criticized. I believe that we need to remind Canadians continually of the importance of the Senate and its role within the parliamentary system. Canadians need to have a better understanding of this institution and how it functions.
At the same time, I believe that the public wants to see meaningful reforms. As you know, Canadians in the 21st century are much different than Canadians in the 19th century, so it’s important to respond to the changing expectations and attitudes of the people of this country.
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled the federal government cannot change the nature of the Senate on its own, and because a change in the Constitution is unlikely in the near future, it is now incumbent on the Senate to get its own house in order. Over the past several months in particular, I have sensed a growing willingness on the part of many senators to engage in discussions leading to meaningful reforms, which I expect will help earn back the respect and the confidence of the Canadian people.
I am sure all of us accepted appointment to the Senate with the idea that we could make a real contribution. As you know, as senators, we have the opportunity to examine areas of public policy that are more difficult and less attractive for elected representatives to pursue, as well as the opportunity to challenge conventional wisdom and break new ground in the development of public policy.
As a senator, I have always appreciated the fact that we have more time to devote to an in-depth examination of matters before us. The benefits of that were brought home to me one time in Halifax when one of the Senate committees was holding public hearings. A witness came up to me afterwards and expressed his appreciation for the time and the attention he had been given by the committee. He had made a similar presentation to a committee in the other place a few weeks previous, and he expressed to me the view that the Senate committee appeared to be taking the matter more seriously and with a broader scope and that senators were better informed.
In my experience here, one of the most gratifying parts was the work in Senate committees. I have had the opportunity of serving in a number of committees, and I have always been impressed with the high level of the discussions, the invaluable input of witnesses and the soundness of reports and recommendations. All of us in this chamber have made a huge contribution and played a large role in the development of public policy through committee reports.
I’ve been fortunate to participate on a number of Senate committees, including Agriculture and Forestry; Banking, Trade and Commerce; National Finance; Internal Economy; and Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Although I have been involved in some most interesting and productive committee work, one that stands out is the report on mental health and addictions by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
This committee produced a groundbreaking report that led to the establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. That commission has helped to ease the stigma associated with mental health and addiction and has supported and encouraged more effective responses by governments and communities to deal with this issue that affects one in five Canadians.
Honourable senators, this is but one example of the Senate helping to lead the way on an increasing social and health issue. As senators, I believe we have a responsibility to give voice to all those Canadians who have been marginalized for one reason or another.
As well, the Senate has given me the opportunity to raise issues that are important to Islanders and to Canadians, including issues such as literacy, access to post-secondary education, programs and services for Canadian seniors, transfer payments, veterans and their families, the lack of some federal services in my province and more.
One area that has been particularly special to me, both as a senator and as a businesswoman, was the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Women Entrepreneurs, of which I had the privilege to be vice-chair. We consulted widely and produced a report with many recommendations, and I’m happy to say that some of those have been implemented and the number of women entrepreneurs has grown greatly.
Honourable senators, I have found being a senator is both fulfilling and demanding, and it has been an honour to serve in this chamber with all of you and to take part in the public policy discussions that help shape the future of this country.
I want to offer a special thank you to my staff and others for helping me to fulfill my duties as a senator. I am fortunate to have had good people who have made my job easier. I am pleased that Melanie Nicholson and Andrew Lockhart are sitting in the gallery today. As well, I want to express my appreciation to all the people who make this Senate function, both inside and outside the chamber, and in committees.
On July 25, I will become a private citizen, but I will still be paying attention to public affairs. Honourable senators, I will be watching you closely as you attempt to reform the Senate and continue to protect the interests of Canadians across the country.
Protecting the interests of Canadians across the country is what the Fathers of Confederation meant the Senate to do.
In 1864, 150 years ago, the Fathers came to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to discuss the possibility of creating a nation. This year my province is celebrating that event — the Charlottetown Conference. I encourage everyone to come join us on the Island to take part in some of our anniversary celebrations.
Thank you. It has been a real pleasure. I have enjoyed it. Best wishes to all.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!