Catherine Callbeck looks back fondly on her time in Senate

Nancy MacPhee
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Catherine Callbeck looks over scrapbooks that were compiled and given to her by Janet Warren. Callbeck, who turns 75 on Friday, officially ends her time in the Canadian Senate today.

Prince Edward Island Senator turns 75 Friday, which means mandatory retirement from the Red Chamber

CENTRAL BEDEQUE — Catherine Callbeck’s job is done.

Friday is her 75th birthday. That means mandatory retirement from the Senate.

An open house marking Callbeck’s birthday and retirement from the Senate will be held Friday from 4:00-7:30 p.m. at Seacow Head Lighthouse, Lighthouse Road, Fernwood.  

In her family home in Central Bedeque, Callbeck reflected on her time in the Red Chamber.

“There were all kinds of rumours going about that I was going to be appointed to the Senate before anyone had ever approached me,” recalled Callbeck.

“I made it my business to look into it and talk to some people I knew that were in the Senate. If I was going to think about this, I wanted to really know what the Senate did and if it was something of interest to me.”


Seeing it as an extension of community service, when she did get the call from then Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Callbeck accepted the offer.

But first Chretien asked her why she wanted to be a senator.

“I thought, with my background, I could do a lot for Prince Edward Island,” said Callbeck.

“The Senate is a very valuable institution. I felt that when I went into it and I still feel that way.”

She calls it the most misunderstood institution in Canada.

“It is very unfortunate that Canadians do not understand more of what the Senate does and how it functions.”

So, on Sept. 23, 1997, the former MLA, provincial cabinet minister, Member of Parliament, Liberal Party leader and premier took on the job.

It’s been a role, for the most part, she has relished.

During her time in the Red Chamber, Callbeck has sat on various committees, all of which she chose to be part of.

She said committee work is at the heart of the Senate and vital when it comes to forming public policy.

She touched on her work during her 17 years, particularly a report on health done by the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee.

“Roy Romanow did a report on health and it cost $15 million. The Senate did one and it cost less than a half million. I have been told by a lot of health professionals that our report is superior,” said Callbeck.

“Out of that grew the 2004 Health Accord, where Prime Minister (Paul) Martin put millions of dollars into certain areas, for example pharmaceutical coverage and wait lists. It was a 10-year plan. Unfortunately, this year the government did not renew it.”

A report on mental health by that same committee — Out of the Shadows of Mental Health — paved the way for improvements in that area, including the establishment of the Mental Health Commission, although, she added, there was still a great deal of work to be done.

An entrepreneur herself, Callbeck enjoyed travelling from coast to coast speaking with other women in business and, as a result, making several recommendations that were implemented by government.

“The committee that I loved the most was finance because you could get into every department in government and you had the opportunity then, whether it was the Department of Fisheries or Industry or whatever, to really get into the programs where P.E.I. was affected and to ask questions and to make sure that we are getting a fair deal.”

It’s that work — giving Islanders a voice — that has been most fulfilling.

“My greatest work within the Senate ... was bringing the concerns of Islanders to the floor of the Senate, whether you do that through question period or motions or inquiries,” said Callbeck.

And that, she feels, is the role of senators — to represent their constituents, review and reform policy and help implement change that helps Canadians.

If the Senate were to be abolished, if would be that much more difficult for the voice and concerns of Islanders to be heard in Ottawa.

Organizations: Red Chamber, Liberal Party, Science and Technology Committee Mental Health Commission Department of Fisheries

Geographic location: Lighthouse Road, Fernwood, Central Bedeque Prince Edward Island Canada Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Rhonda Lee
    July 25, 2014 - 10:39

    Hello Nancy, thank you for the article! It is nice be able to read PEI news in Alberta and a bonus when It is written by friends.

  • Ralph
    July 25, 2014 - 08:37

    The Queen of Bedeque exhibiting the complete uselessness of the senate...7.5 and running through the tunnel like a rat is her legacy.

    • PEI is a waste of tax money
      July 25, 2014 - 10:05

      Every Islander knows that the provincial civil service is filled with 50-70% of people that don't actually deserve their jobs. They are not merit-based appointments because they didn't win a competition - they were hand picked by politicians in power and the majority of these positions were ''created'' for them. You could abolish every single one of these positions and PEI would probably run much better as a jurisdiction and we'd be having surpluses every single fiscal quarter. But P.E.I.'s 141 year old Liberal - PC parade keeps marching on (and no, I don't think it would be any different under NDP either). Kitty Callbeck was faced with a huge funding shortfall in equalization and health care and education transfer payments from Ottawa when Jean Chretien was prime minister (in 1994-95) and when Paul Martin was finance minister. If she hadn't chopped the salaries of the politically appointed patronage ridden provincial civil service, PEI would have been forced to run a record deficit that would have led to a default on its debt payments and in turn led to it giving up being a province. Actually I wouldn't mind that because I think PEI would be much better as a single regional municipality anyway. Being a province is completely unnecessary for us. All PEI is is a provincial budget dressed up as an economy, propped up by massive transfer and equalization payments from the federal government. It's time to start living within our means.

  • yolanda
    July 24, 2014 - 11:38

    Analysing the development of a senator can be interesting. Going back to the first entrance into politics in this case and most others, where party operatives sit around assessing who's name and recognition can win a seat. No question of ability enters process. In this case , after she was an MLA and exited politics, a new round of chasing began for a Premier, and lo and behold they found the known name Callbeck. She got out after a lack luster performance as Premier. By now she had been injected with the notion that she had something to offer that no one else could not offer. Again lo and behold, wheels in motion brought the Senatorship. A life of leisure and privilege was brought to an end only by the pesky age limitations. Any currant senator must feel the disdain in which they are held by the taxpayers, you would think they could duck as much as possible.

  • Waste of Money
    July 24, 2014 - 11:01

    “My greatest work within the Senate ... was bringing the concerns of Islanders to the floor of the Senate..." Pfft what a joke! Callbeck has done nothing but be a drain on taxpayers her entire time in the senate. The only difference between her and Duffy is that she filled her pockets legally.

    • sammy
      July 24, 2014 - 14:25

      Could not agree more and this goes for all of those 'fat cat' member of the red chamber. The thing should have been abolished years ago. It only serves to reward friend of various political parties under the guise of doing something useful for the country. What a bad joke on the taxpayer.

  • Observer
    July 24, 2014 - 10:45

    Broken written contracts, broken election promises and running through the tunnel to escape controversy; is what this so called lady, is remembered for, by a lot of Islanders. She also ran away from an early election call; after she was nominated at her nomination meeting, because the polls showed that voters did not forget her 7.5% roll back! She than campaigned for the senate seat and broke another promise to the liberal voters in her riding to run to the senate. I hope that she has her retirement party in the tunnel that she so frequently used as premier.

  • voter
    July 24, 2014 - 09:27

    ====-----7.5% -----7.5%----- 7.5%------7.5% ====------------7.5% --75 is a very telling number for this tunnel runner

    • don
      July 24, 2014 - 11:12

      well maybe they should have fired 60% of the staff and never hire them back. but as catherine said it was either a pay cut or a lot of job loss. to me i would sooner lose a few bucks then lose my job. but most of the government staff i know is there for the wages only sure as hell not to work. but i heard she wanted a pay cut of 3.5% but was out voted by the mla's like ronnie check and see what he wanted to cut the pay by. if you have the back bone.