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Penny Collenette

Penny Collenette

PENNY COLLENETTE

If Wallin wants to be an activist, she should run for office Add to ...

It’s a proud and exciting day for university students when they walk across a stage to accept their hard-earned degrees. Anticipation and nervous butterflies are the norm. The grads are generally excited to receive their diploma from a Chancellor, who is traditionally appointed because she has been an inspiring role model in Canadian society.

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University of Guelph grads who were awarded their precious pieces of papers from Chancellor Pam Wallin in the past few years could be forgiven today for feeling confused and possibly betrayed.

Pam Wallin’s full frontal attack Monday on Deloitte’s audit had many red flashing points, but there were two bright lines which really caught my attention.

The first was the alleged use of Senate expenses to attend U of Guelph’s convocation. What was Ms. Wallin thinking? That a university and the Senate are one and the same and therefore, expenses can be co-mingled? Could she not distinguish between different institutions?

Has she taken multi-tasking to the extreme and rolled all her commitments into one job? Did she write her own job description as a Senator, wherein she is a self-appointed spokesperson for various sectors, which apparently need her help and voice?

Secondly, she described herself as an “activist” Senator and spoke about the responsibilities imposed on her because of her desire to speak out on issues, especially, she says, the role of women.

Many years ago, I worked with Ms. Wallin on a file relating to women in the communications field. She was fearless and focused and, at her prodding, I had few qualms about suggesting her name to then-prime minster Jean Chrétien as someone who would be an excellent appointment as consul general to New York. As far as I know, she was a good appointment who raised Canada’s profile in the United States.

This is where it gets confusing. Ms. Wallin is knowledgeable and sophisticated and, as consul general, would have been made aware of what is and what is not acceptable to charge back to the government. In other words, she was not a neophyte when she reached the Senate.

She said in an interview earlier this year that she made mistakes. We can empathize because we all make mistakes and, when we do, we can hope to learn from them and to be forgiven.

But the Deloitte audit cites more than 400 incidences of “mistakes.” This does not appear to be a one-time error by someone who should know better.

The Senate is a massive accident scene that will be cleaned up by public policy and possibly legislative change.

But as far as I am concerned, the collateral damage has been done. Students deserve better. As for women? Thanks for all the work in the past, but I am one woman who does not wish to be used as an excuse for Ms.Wallin’s “mistakes.”

If Ms. Wallin really wants to continue her activist work, then she should resign from the Senate and run for public office. If she could find the courage to do that, she would also find out what it’s really like to be held accountable.

Penny Collenette, a former senior fellow at the Kennedy School of Government and former director of appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office under Jean Chrétien, is an adjunct professor in the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law.

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