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Loose Cannon: Is Chancellor Wallin a good fit for Guelph?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

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Written by Greg Beneteau

In a month’s time, I will finally accomplish what I set out to do when I arrived at the University of Guelph six (yes, I said six) years ago – graduate with a university degree.

I’ve covered more than one convocation ceremony during my time as a reporter, but I’m still struck by the solemnity of the occasion: the flowing robes, the eloquent speakers, and the presentation of the shimmering gold mace, symbolizing the authority of the University. Experiencing all of this as a graduate should be even more satisfying.

For the University of Guelph’s Chancellor, Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin, the occasion entails a great deal of work. As the titular head of the University, she has the power to confer all degrees, which she will do with a flourish of eloquent prose before painstakingly shaking the hand of each student, posing for a photo, and perhaps imparting some private words of wisdom to a select few.

Yet, I feel a certain sense of apprehension about shaking the chancellor’s hand. While I do not for a moment deny Wallin’s long list of accomplishments – she has served as journalist, diplomat and entrepreneur, and has been named an Officer to the Order of Canada – I question whether she’s a good fit for the University of Guelph.

The University of Guelph recently launched the Better Planet Project, a fundraising campaign that aims to raise $200 million “to accelerate research that will help to make real, sustainable changes, ensuring the current and future welfare of our local and global communities,” according to the Project Website.

By contrast, Wallin was one of 43 unelected senators who last year abruptly voted to kill a climate-change bill passed by a majority of elected MPs in the House of Commons.

Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, was the only climate change bill on the table that would have forced Canada to live up to its international obligations to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Without a framework to combat climate change at the federal level, the work of institutions like U of G will be muted.

The University of Guelph encourages a climate of academic debate and discussion. Yet Bill C-311 was defeated without debate, the first time in 70 years that the Senate has defeated a Commons bill without giving it a proper hearing, according to experts.

Not only did Wallin vote to shut down legitimate debate on an important issue, she also thumbed her nose at the men and women elected to represent their constituents in parliament.

The University of Guelph prides itself in fostering concern for global issues and international development. Yet as chair of the Senate committee on national security and defence, Wallin has been a vocal advocate for keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan to continue counter-insurgency efforts.

As recently as November of last year, she wrote in the National Post that she agreed with generals on the ground that the Afghan war was “winnable.”

What, if anything, there remains to be won is Afghanistan is questionable. The country is widely regarded as one of the most corrupt in the world, with a president elected in a vote fraught with irregularities. Meanwhile, the deadly insurgency continues to rage, thanks in part to fighters from Pakistan eager to engage a foreign enemy.

Few international observers talk about victory anymore, but rather a withdrawal that will achieve a stalemate with the Taliban and limit the fallout caused by our absence. If that’s winning, I wouldn’t want to see defeat.

I can accept that Wallin – whose term as chancellor was recently extended until 2014 – has her own viewpoints on certain issues.

What I find distressing is that, as a lifelong journalist, Wallin once committed herself to asking tough questions and holding those in authority accountable for their actions. Now that she’s in a position of political power, it seems that those values have fallen by the wayside.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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