Sen. Yonah Martin speaks to Grade 9 and 10 English and social studies students at Earl Marriot Secondary Wednesday, as part of a ‘SEN-gage’ program. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Senator speaks to South Surrey students

Yonah Martin visited Earl Marriott Secondary on Jan. 16

Canada’s first-ever Korean-Canadian parliamentarian was at a South Surrey high school Wednesday to shed some light on the Senate and her role in the country’s capital with the students.

“I’m bringing Ottawa to them,” Sen. Yonah Martin told Peace Arch News just prior to addressing Earl Marriott Secondary’s Grade 9 and 10 English and social studies classes.

“It’s important for them to know what we do.”

Martin visited the school as part of the SENgage program, a “youth initiative launched by the Senate of Canada to help you connect with a senator anywhere in Canada, from coast to coast to coast,” according to information on the Senate of Canada website.

The senator, a Burnaby resident, was invited to the school after meeting EMS teachers Edward Ewacha and Stéphane Éthier during the week-long Teacher Institute on Parliamentary Democracy conventions that are held annually in Ottawa. The teachers attended two and three years ago, respectively.

“When the teachers come to Ottawa, I clear my schedule,” Martin said.

Wednesday, Martin – currently deputy leader of the Opposition, and a longtime teacher prior to her Senate appointment in 2009 – shared how she arrived at the Senate and a few of the things she’s accomplished in the years since, such as her private members bill that established July 27 as Korean War Veterans Day.

She often likened her Senate experiences to school – “class” is in session from September to June, there’s homework, preparation is required and the learning is constant – and stressed the value of such experiences as student-council involvement. They are “microcosms” of life after school, she said, with a key difference being “the stakes are higher.”

“My homework happens to be legislation, some of the bills that are going to become law for Canada,” she said.

“I remember what I did as a student-council president. It helps me to this day.”

Being a student “really prepared me for my job,” she added.

Martin said one lesson she learned soon after becoming a senator hit hard and stuck fast: “to be impeccable… with my words.”

It came from a meeting with colleagues, when she responded “yes” to a question regarding whether she was prepared – even though she wasn’t.

“I should have said, no, I can get back to you,” Martin said. “But I was new, so I said yes.

“As soon as I said yes, there was all these expectations. I had to chase my yes… for two weeks.”

Ever since, “I never say anything to impress anyone.”

Martin immigrated to Canada in 1972, and was appointed to the Senate following a 21-year teaching career.

She co-founded and was first chair of the C3 Korean Canadian Society in 2003, and is one of the country’s youngest senators.

Not surprisingly, Koreans in Canada, she noted, “see me as their voice.” But at the same time – and just one point that helps illustrate how senators fill so many gaps and roles in Canada – so do Bulgarians, she said.

She described her role as deputy leader as similar to that of a school vice-principal, and said with the title comes great responsibility.

“In that chamber… I am in charge. If anything goes wrong, it’s my fault.”

Éthier on Thursday said Martin’s presentation gave “an interesting perspective into the role of the Senate and what senators do on a daily basis.”

“Her visit certainly provided a human touch to government to the students and helped them to realize our government is made up of regular Canadian citizens, like them,” Éthier told PAN by email.

The stop at Earl Marriott was Martin’s second school visit of the day. Wednesday morning, she spoke to students at Tamanawis Secondary.

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Sen. Yonah Martin speaks to Grade 9 and 10 English and social studies students at Earl Marriot Secondary Wednesday, as part of a ‘SEN-gage’ program. (Tracy Holmes photo)

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