|Saskatchewan gets senate voice: Western Producer (Feb. 26, 2009)|
February 26, 2009
Saskatchewan's newest Conservative senator left her rural Saskatchewan home more than 35 years ago, but she apparently packed some of those small-town sensibilities into her suitcase.
She was a "townie" but spent many summer days on her uncle's farm.
Since leaving home, the Wadena, Sask., native has mainly been a city girl, living in Regina, Toronto, Ottawa and New York.
But in late 2008, she took a telephone call from prime minister Stephen Harper and agreed to return to Ottawa to sit as a senator representing Saskatchewan. She has promised she will run for the job if Senate elections are ever held.
Despite her adult life in urban centres, Wallin worries about the divide she sees between the urban Canada where she lives and the rural Canada that gave her grounding.
"In Ottawa, the tendency is to see the Canadian divide as French-English," she said. "I believe the great Canadian divide is between rural and urban. There is a growing view that urban Canada and the cities are the future, the centre of our wealth. It misses the point of how much of our resource, our wealth, our people, our values come from rural areas."
It is an issue Wallin said she will pursue on Parliament Hill, although she is not a member of comm-ittees that will look at it.
"Our small towns are fewer and farther between these days as technology, demographic shifts and economics exact their toll," she said in her maiden Senate speech.
She praised the government budget promise to spend money in resource-dependent communities.
"The plan is bolstering the spirit and the spine of our communities with programs that will allow today's kids to skate on ice rinks but also have access to the internet and imagine a life away from their small towns, but know when they head home, the roads will still take them there."
Officially, she is the senator for Saskatchewan-Kuroki Beach, a property near Wadena that she owns. The designation was not Wallin's idea.
"I was actually surprised when I heard it," she said. "I just wanted to be a senator from Saskatchewan."
Still, she is convinced her small-town upbringing helped prepare her well for a life journey that led from Wadena through many cities, including New York, which she loves as a metropolis filled with small neighbourhoods not unlike Wadena.
It was the small community that formed her.
"It was a real protective blanket of family and neighbours and I credit that with giving me the instinct to take risks, to say yes to things I wasn't sure I was ready for. It was a wonderful grounding."
Wallin, 56, has used that risk-taking nature to create an unlikely career path.
She started as a social worker in the Prince Albert federal penitentiary, moved on to CBC Regina after a chance telephone call and then to CBC Ottawa and Toronto.
Her journalistic journey included a stint with the national radio program As It Happens, then some time with the Toronto Star Ottawa bureau news and finally a switch to CTV, Question Period and Ottawa CTV bureau chief.
After journalism, she created her own film production company and then was handed the surprise appointment as Canadian consul general in New York during Paul Martin's Liberal government. She is also chancellor of the University of Guelph.
In 2007, Harper appointed her to a high-level panel advising the government on the future of Canada's role in the Afghanistan war.
Then days before Christmas last year when the prime minister decided to fill 18 vacant Senate seats with Conservatives, he named Wallin to replace retired Saskat-chewan farmer Len Gustafson.
Unlike most of the December appointees, Wallin had not pursued a blatant or partisan Tory agenda in her career, although her father has been a Conservative activist.
In her first Senate speech, she quoted former Progressive Conservative premier Grant Devine who once referred to spring planting and fall harvest in Saskatchewan as two "world-scale megaprojects every single year."
Wallin told senators about a recent conversation with her mother, who said she was rereading her daughter's autobiography " 'to figure out how my daughter wound her way from Wadena, Sask., to the Senate of Canada.'
"I told her to put down the book, look across the room at my father and that he should do the same toward her and they would both see the reason that I stand here today."