Freshly appointed Senator Yuen Pau Woo calls his decision to study at Pearson College in Metchosin the most disruptive choice he’s ever made.
That’s not to say it was a bad choice far from it but for a 16 year-old from Singapore, the move to southern Vancouver Island was a drastic one.
“It was the best kind of disruption that happened to me … It was a huge risk for me because nobody had heard of Pearson College in Singapore and the International Baccelaurate wasn’t even a recognized program at the time, but I knew I wanted to do it,” Woo said.
The two-year program at Pearson covers the final year of high school and a pre-university year for its international students, with a particular emphasis on social service and an understanding of international issues.
“Above all it is a belief that education is a force to unite peoples, nations and cultures,” Woo noted.
“I’d like to think that I’ve taken some of that ethos with me …”
When he embarked on this overseas educational adventure, Woo didn’t expect that he’d be finding a new country to call home, but that’s exactly how it turned out.
“I really gained an appreciation and a fondness for the folks of southern Vancouver Island and how warm and welcoming they were to me and my fellow students,” he said.
Woo also had a close friendship with a local Vietnamese refugee family and he was particularly impressed at how Canadians welcomed them as well.
Woo returned to Canada and moved to Newfoundland in 1988, nine years after he started studying at Pearson College. He returned to B.C. in 1996 and now lives in Vancouver.
Prior to applying for a place in the senate – a new practice under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an effort to make the upper house of parliament less partisan – Woo served as the president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on Canada’s ties with Asia.
While some have called his appointment as being representative of growing ties between Canada and Asia, Woo doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
While he acknowledged that much of his expertise is in that field, he was quick to point out that he has plenty of experience in other areas as well.
“I have quite a diverse background in many public policy issues,” he said, noting that he has worked with fisheries and health-care issues, among others.
“But it’s true … what I’m best known for is the promotion of stronger relations between Canada and Asia.”
There’s no question that the Senate has been ravaged by various scandals over the last few years. A 2015 Angus Reid poll suggested that 41 per cent of Canadians would like to see the Senate abolished, while another 45 per cent want to see it reformed.
Woo hopes that a new batch of independent senators – Trudeau named nine late last month and was expected to name 12 more in the near future – can help change the Senate’s image for the better and restore wavering faith in Canada’s upper house.
“The only reason why I applied to the Senate was the Prime Minister’s stated intention that he wants senators to be independent and to use their best judgment, skills and knowledge to improve and strengthen legislation and to strengthen Canadian democracy” he said.
“I think if senators both new and old are able to provide that kind of value added to the parliamentary system, we will prove to the Canadian public that this is an institution that is not only credible, but of value.”