They say that home is where the heart is. My heart is in Wadena, Sask., and so is my home. Wadena is where I reside in my home province.
Wadena, population 1,500, is one of many small towns in the farm country of eastern Saskatchewan. And it’s a 21/2-hour drive from the airport in either Saskatoon or Regina.
I was actually born in Moose Jaw, where Mom was visiting her mom, and I arrived a little early. But from that moment on, I grew up in Wadena. My parents and sister live there, as do her two married daughters. There’s a street named after me and a sign on the outskirts proclaiming, “Home of Pamela Wallin.”
Last year, I spent 168 days in my home province, not just with family but participating in dozens and dozens of events. I gave speeches, moderated or took part in panel discussions, presented Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals to veterans and other deserving Saskatchewanians, led a military dedication ceremony at Dafoe and attended many, many other events such as dinners and barbecues. That is my job, and I love doing it. I spend every possible minute I can at my home in Wadena or at my cabin at Fishing Lake during the summer.
But I also spent 94 days in Ottawa fulfilling my Senate duties. And as reporters have “discovered,” I own a condo – just one – in Toronto. I do. It’s the place where I worked for many of my years on national television before going to New York as the Canadian consul-general after 9/11. As my friends say, I actually live on airplanes.
The Senate has a real matter to wrestle with over this question of residency, as set out long ago in the Constitution. Back then, rail was the main way politicians got around. Needless to say, those who lived far from Ottawa seldom went home because of the distances and time involved.
The airplane changed all that. Now, although it can be exhausting, my political colleagues and I can and do commute and fly home for weekends and during parliamentary breaks.
This raises another point concerning questions about “high” travel expenses. The Senate’s policy is not based on dollar amounts – although dollar amounts are what are reported – so senators who live in the West or the North have higher bills than those who commute to Montreal or Toronto. The system is based on annual travel points per senator, so we are all treated equally – we have the same number of flights, regardless of distance. And I have never exceeded my designated points. If I did, I’d be on the hook for any costs.
I have been asked about attendance. Senators are permitted to be away from the chamber for as many as 21 personal leave days per parliamentary session (this one started in June, 2011) for things like bereavement, family matters, religious holidays and such. If you miss more, you are docked $250 per day. I’ve never exceeded the rules here, either.
These are some of the things I hope people will consider during this latest hue and cry about senators. There are people and political parties with axes to grind – such as seeking the abolition of the Senate. Fair enough, but understand that the Senate is what it is because that’s the way Canada’s founders established it.
Wisely, the government has submitted a list of questions about Senate reform to the Supreme Court, and we can only hope this will move the process along.
Those of us who believe change is necessary are still committed, even more so now. And I, like other recent appointees, have voluntarily agreed to term limits, even though the legislation has yet to pass. I think that will prove a key reform.
It is an honour to serve in the Senate, and I will continue to work just as hard as I can in my limited time here to serve the province and the people I love.