EDMONTON – Alberta's newest member of the Canadian Senate is a board member of the Western Catholic Reporter and a long-time leader in St. Joseph's Basilica Parish.
Betty Unger, named to the Senate Jan. 6 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has served as chair of the WCR board and is currently in her seventh year as a board member.
Unger has also been the chair of the parish pastoral council at the basilica parish and currently serves on its finance and administration, and human resources committees. She is also a member of the parish Catholic Women's League and a Sunday lector.
"I love my church. I love volunteering there," she said in an interview. "It's been a giving back to my church community, which has stood by me many, many times."
She also has been active on several other boards in the community. With her appointment to the Senate, she said she will have to resign from the boards on which she serves.
Unger is the second person with close ties to the WCR to become a senator. Douglas Roche, the newspaper's founding editor, served in the Senate from 1998 to 2004.
Her main qualification for the Senate position, however, was her second-place finish in Alberta's 2004 senatorial election. She received more than 320,000 votes, only 77 behind Bert Brown, who became a senator in 2007.
"I'm very pleased," she said of her appointment. "It's something I've been working for since 1998."
Unger, 68, says she agrees senators should be limited to nine-year terms, although she will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 prior to that term of office expiring.
She said she has long believed in the need for Senate reform. "Canada prides itself on being a democracy and yet we only elect half of our politicians."
The Alberta government's belief is that if two or three other provinces also elected their senators, it would increase the pressure on the remaining provinces to follow suit, she said.
Unger also served on the archdiocesan pastoral council during Archbishop Thomas Collins' time in Edmonton. The announcement of her appointment to the Senate came the same day as Collins was named a cardinal.
"I was so thrilled to hear his news," she said, adding that Collins sent her congratulations on her appointment.