Yahoo! Exclusive: Senator Pamela Wallin defends the upper house as Canada’s ‘second pair of eyes and ears’

Former broadcaster Pamela Wallin spoke to Yahoo! Canada News last week, about her job as a senator and about why Canada still needs a senate.

Our nation's upper chamber has taken a lot of flack from both the media and the public over the past year.

It's an easy target: Here we have an unelected and unaccountable government body with 105 patronage appointees receiving a guaranteed salary of $132,000 until the age of 75.

And it doesn't help that some Senators do and say stupid things (see senator Mitchell who said pension reform could force some senators to accept "brown paper bags with cash in it")

Despite the criticism, Wallin believes the role of the senate is just as important now as it has ever been.

Here are excerpts from her interview with Yahoo! Canada News:

Y! Canada News: What do you say to people who want to abolish the senate? Why do we need a senate?

Wallin: You wouldn't go an buy a house and a car without a second opinion. You would go home and check online and you'd go and check the consumer reports and you'd talk to your friends.

Legislation to create laws of the land is a big decision. And it needs a second pair of eyes and ears before big decisions are made.

[ Last week's one-on-one: Wynne relishes role as insider in Ontario Liberal leadership race ]

Y! Canada News: It seems that senate-bashing has become a national sport in Canada?

Wallin: I think it's always been a national sport, I don't think there's much new about that. It's been going on forever.

But I think what we've seen [changes] in the last few years with Prime Minister Harper. He's really appointed a much more diverse group and all different ages. And I think you're starting to see [the changes.]

A lot of us agreed to term limits — although there's no legislation in place. But I'm a firm believer in that so I intend to practice what I preach. So I won't be here until I'm 75.

Y! Canada News: Why do you think there's so much senate-bashing?

Wallin: It's an easy target for because you sort of say with a snide tone and people roll their eyes.

I think part of the problem is that the media don't cover the senate, it's not televised.

Y! Canada News: What is a day-in-the life of a senator?

Wallin: The core of work is not sitting in the chamber. The core of our work is committees and the senate committee structure has had a very good reputation.

Michael Kirby's senate study on health care, some of the ground breaking studies on communications — they've all come through the senate where you don't have the pressures of having to get elected again tomorrow. And it's much less partisan.

I come in on Mondays and its defence committee. Then I sit on foreign affairs and international trade. I sit on Veterans Affairs because it's a sub-committee of defence. I sit on anti-terrorism.

So yes we sit in the chamber but then you've got 2 hours, twice a week on each committee.

And then there's [the research]. If you chair a defence committee, I need to know what the United States are doing, I need to know what our NATO allies are doing, I need to know what's happening on the cyber-security front, I need to know about F-35s. So you're not born with that [information]. You have to do your homework.

I spend 168 days in my home province...and everyone of those times I go home I'm chairing Chamber of Commerce awards or I'm going to give a speech to the aviation council.

I think many of us are trying to make this a much more real and visible job.

Y! Canada News: The media has reported resistance within the Conservative senate caucus about Prime Minister Harper's proposed senate reforms. Is there any truth to that?

Wallin: The senate is doing what the senate does with any bit of legislation whether it's about the senate or whether it's about defence and national security.

That's our job is to say let's look at this. What's the best way to proceed?

I think because people don't understand the [senate] process so they take everything [said] to mean...we're rejecting or fighting it. We're [just] doing what we're supposed to do.

Y! Canada News: There's also talk that the senate may defeat a gambling bill passed unanimously by MPs.

Wallin: It's the same thing [as the senate reform bill].

Maybe when you started out…you think you're in favour of legislation but then you listen to testimony and then you go 'hmmm, I haven't thought of that. That's the process…and we're kind of peoples' delegates to that; the sober second thought.

[ Related: Senate rejection of sports gambling bill likely to affect zero gamblers ]

It's kind a well-worn phrase but that's what we're there for. In the heat of the day, bills get made, legislation gets proposed, it gets voted on and then it comes to us.

We're that second pair of eyes and ears.