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‘A very, very proud moment’: Senator Betty Unger retires
August 21, 2018

Senator Betty Unger retired from the Senate in August 2018 after representing Alberta in the Red Chamber for six years. After a 25 year career with a nursing services company she was appointed to the Senate in 2012. In fact, Betty was the first Canadian woman to be elected as a Senate nominee for Alberta and then later appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

SenCAplus asked Senator Unger to reflect on her time in the Senate.

CBC News Power and Politics host David Common interviews Senator Betty Unger about Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act.

What are you most proud of from your career in the Senate?

The day that I was sworn in was a very, very proud moment. Over 320,000 Albertans had voted for me to be their Senate nominee and I was honored to be representing those voters — and all Albertans — in the Senate of Canada. I tried always to be mindful of how Albertans felt regarding policies and issues that mattered to them.

Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, was the last battle you fought in the Red Chamber. What was the highlight for you?

I wouldn’t exactly call this a highlight but rather a serious concern in that most people knew very little about marijuana and probably less about the many harmful effects of the drug. However, I was thankful for the publicity because it gave Canadians time to realize the potential dangers of this “benign” drug which was coming at them with C-45. Our conservative opposition members were in a minority so we had to accept the will of the majority. But I will never stop warning people about the dangers of marijuana and especially regarding the dangerous, harmful effects of this drug on the developing brains of young people.

Describe a memorable moment you experienced in the last six years.

Presenting the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medals and the Senate Sesquicentennial Medals to deserving Albertans were very memorable and I also enjoyed the numerous opportunities I had to meet influential people from around the world. One person who personified that was Bill Gates, when former prime minister Stephen Harper had invited Mr. Gates to come to Ottawa. An evening event presented the opportunity for meeting Mr. Gates, shaking his hand and having a photo taken with him. As a senator, I had access to many such great opportunities.

What will you miss about being a senator?

I will miss having opportunities to talk with Grade 9 students who study history around Canada’s House of Commons and Senate. Teachers would invite me to talk to their classes where I would explain the function of the Senate and what role I had as a senator, legislation we were considering, bills that we were studying, and committee work.

Senator Betty Unger, centre, poses for a photo with Lesley Biehn, Heidi Bezanson, Jenny Cote-Penrose and Jonathan Gale, who were part of the youth adult leadership delegation from the MY Canada Association in 2016.

I always started my talks by saying: As a senator, if I could write my own job description, I would add — in addition to my Senate duties — “greatly enjoy traveling across Canada talking to young people about the Senate, its roles and what we are studying.” I just loved working with young people.

And whenever a group would come to Ottawa and ask to meet with me, I always tried to accommodate them. During my tenure in the Senate, I received many groups of young people in my office, whose points of view I greatly appreciated.

Most of these young people had never met a senator which I learned in the first of the talks that I had been giving. Still, a majority of adults question the role of the Senate and what senators actually do. So since these young people were studying the Canadian government with the Senate as a key component, I saw a great opportunity — and felt a duty as well — to explain the role of the Upper House.

Now that you’re retired, what’s next for you?

I need time to get resettled back at my home here in Edmonton, then perhaps take a vacation, which I haven’t done for nearly four years. I’m just going to take some time, read some books, go somewhere where the weather is nice and just relax. Later, I will go back to volunteering which I had always enjoyed doing before my Senate days. It’s been a great experience which I greatly enjoyed.

Thank you, Alberta!