NOTES FOR REMARKS BY SENATOR JIM MUNSON AT THE ANNUAL DICK HARRIS SPECIAL OLYMPICS CHARITY GOLF CLASSIC

Thank you very much.

 

Well I don’t know how many senators have been through Prince George during the past few years, but I do know of one who has fond memories.  In the Senate my new best friend is Frank Mahovolich.  Frank thinks of me as the little “m”….that’s the little m for Munson not munchkin.  But the Big M told me earlier this week that a few years ago he was playing for an NHL old timers team.

 

The game was in Prince George.

 

Being in the Senate, he doesn’t remember the score anymore but he does remember more than playing hockey.  It seems that in between periods, former figure skating stars put on quite a show. You may recall a great champion, an Olympian Don Jackson from another era. But there was another figure skater who didn’t have a partner to skate with.

 

So what did the Big M do, what every pro would do, he stepped in, I mean skated in to help.   With full hockey gear on, Frank and his female partner put on quite a performance.

He still won’t tell me if he did a double or triple jump, but what he wanted me to tell you is that there is a video of that performance.

 

He said if anybody has it destroy it. Well not really. The hockey hall of famer tells me, he wouldn’t mind getting a copy.

 

I can tell you I was never an NHL hockey player, but don’t ever tell that to one Special Olympian. A Special Olympian who believes, and rightfully so, that I am an

Ottawa Senator.

 

I first became involved with Special Olympics on a cold wintry Sunday morning in Ottawa.  It was almost two years ago and I had personal reasons to see first hand what Special Olympics were all about.

 

These athletes were being coached by an Anne Marie Bergeron. Anne Marie just happens to be Craig Oliver’s wife and Craig was my bureau chief for many years at CTV. Craig, as many of you probably know, is from British Columbia. But that’s another story.  I was almost frozen, but wanting to meet the Special Olympians, Anne Marie brought me into the dressing room after the practice.

 

I was introduced as Jim Munson, an Ottawa Senator, before I knew it I was being hugged.  It was the beginning of a new friendship.  I didn’t have the heart to say that I didn’t play for the Ottawa Senators, but I actually sat – or as some people believe – slept  — as a Senator in Ottawa.

 

As you probably know, I’m pretty new to the business of being a Senator.  As part of my new life, I have had the pleasure of addressing many different groups and to travel around the country.   I come from the east,   In fact, I come from the Far East, but do not be afraid. I come in peace.  Well actually I come from a little mill town in northern New Brunswick.

 

It doesn’t matter where you come from when it comes to supporting the Special Olympics.  Anyone with a heart can see what a great cause it is and I will share with you my own experiences with this extraordinary organization.

 

But before I do, I thought I would talk about the journey that took me from the mill towns of Campbellton and Bathurst, New Brunswick to you via Parliament Hill.  A journey that took me geographically from the east coast to the west coast, and chronologically, from being a journalist, to Director of Communications for the former Prime Minister, to being a Senator.

 

Campbellton is a small town today, and it was an even smaller and more remote town in my youth.  The outside world came to Campbellton via the radio and I will have to say I loved that radio.  I liked what I heard – stories from around the world, even as far as Toronto.  When you’re 11 years old, you can have quite an imagination.

 

It was my first exposure to the power of journalism.  My curiosity was aroused about people and places beyond my home.  It was the radio that started me down the path to being a journalist at a very young age.

 

I was also interested in politics.  This is because of the influence of my late father, the Reverend J.E. Munson.  My father loved politics and took me with him when candidates for the 1957 general election came to our town. I was only eleven when John Diefenbaker’s campaign train rolled into town.  My father and I went to see him and I got up close to shake his hand.  But he didn’t shake it.

 

Then we went to see Lester B. Pearson when his campaign train rolled into town.  I got up close to shake his hand and he shook it.

 

While this may not be a safe place to say this I’ve been a Liberal ever since.  I guess the personal is political and the political is personal after all.  If these stories explain my political allegiance, they also demonstrate the importance of early experiences in the shaping of one’s destiny.  My father was a big believer in doing good in the world.  He raised me to believe that doing good was what we were on this earth to do.

 

So in that context, some of you might consider my move to the Senate to be the act of a rebellious son.  But I know that my Dad would have considered this a wonderful opportunity.  An opportunity to do good in the world.  And that is what I have aimed to do.

 

Making a difference.

 

During my years as a journalist I covered events that have gone on to make history:  the assassination of Indira Ghandi, a TWA highjacking, Tiananmen Square, and conflicts in Belfast and Beirut. But there were other equally important stories.  Stories that didn’t grab the headlines but made a difference in my life as journalist.

 

From the orphanages of Cambodia, the tragedy of Davis Inlet, to a simple lesson in the human spirit on Cape Breton Island, these are the stories which really mattered to me.

 

I covered a story about a community centre for kids in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton.  It was a simple concept:  this community centre offered a breakfast program, an exercise room, a library, and more than that – a place for kids, for teenagers – to hang out.  Times were hard and because of lack of funds, this community centre was going to close.  That was the story I told as a journalist.

 

I should say that was the story the children told me.

 

But the story didn’t end there.  After listening to my two-minute story on the evening news, an entrepreneur in Toronto decided to do something.

 

He promised to donate $50,000 toward keeping the centre open.  His donation was matched by the Nova Scotia government and the centre’s doors remained open to the youth in the area.

 

I learned then how the stories I covered could have an impact beyond informing Canadians of the who, what, where, when, and why.  The stories I told could make a difference.  They could help make change for the greater good.

 

But I also covered stories that dealt with some of the most disturbing and depressing sides of the human condition.  Stories without a happy ending.  When you’re covering a story and you walk away, you sometimes ask yourself “Is there anything else I can do besides presenting an image and telling the story.”  When I saw the horror at Tiananmen Square and the lost children at Davis Inlet, I asked myself:  “How can I do more?”

 

So when the opportunity came to be a Senator, I didn’t think too long and hard about it.  Although I was critical of the Senate as a journalist, I believed I could make a difference.

 

And now that I am in the Senate and I see the work of other Senators, I see that is indeed the case.

 

The Senate

 

There are many who criticize the Senate.  But I wonder if they have taken the time to consider the work and contributions of my colleagues Michael Kirby and Wilbert Keon who are champions of Canada’s health care system and have put forward new ideas about how to make it more sustainable.  Colleagues such as Landon Pearson and Joyce Fairbairn (who is from Alberta) who have tirelessly worked to make children and literacy top policy items.

 

Senator Sharon Carstairs from Manitoba for her compassion and pioneering work in palliative care.  Jean Lapointe, for his work in the area of addictions and rehabilitation.  Terry Mercer, for his efforts on behalf of several charities.  Norm Atkins, for his efforts to bring diabetes and issues of disability to the front.  Aurelien Gill, for his work as an ardent defender of the rights of Aboriginal people in Canada.  Senator  Andreychuk in the field of human trafficking.  Time doesn’t permit me to name every Senator, but believe me when I tell you that every one of them is working for the good of Canadians.

 

One of my contributions is to devote myself to Special Olympics Canada.

 

I love sport and I love competition and I am ready to help out an organization that provides sports training and competitive opportunities to more than 25,000 Canadian athletes with intellectual disabilities.

 

The idea for Special Olympics came from Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of the late John F. Kennedy.  She worked closely with Dr. Frank Hayden, a Toronto researcher and professor who had been looking for ways to develop a national sports program for intellectually disabled people. He worked with a group of children on an intense physical- health program and proved that given the chance, intellectually disabled people could become physically fit and participate in sporting events.

 

The Shriver-Hayden dream came true when the first Special Olympics were held at Soldier’s Field in Chicago in 1968. Since that time, Special Olympics Summer and Winter Games have been held in such cities as Dublin, Toronto and Anchorage. The next Summer Games will be held in Shanghai, China, in 2007.

 

This in itself speaks volumes about what the Special Olympics have achieved as far as raising awareness.  As I mentioned before, I worked as a correspondent in China for five years – 1987-1992.

 

During that time, the Chinese government would never acknowledge, at least publicly, that there were children with mental or intellectual disabilities who had the ability to participate in sport.  Times have changed and I think we can agree that in this case, certainly for the better.

 

As I said earlier, the personal is the political and the political is personal.  This is also true for me when it comes to the Special Olympics.  My wife Ginette and I lost our first son, Timothy, in 1969.  He was 9 months old.  He was a Down Syndrome child.  Ginette and I got through that time together.  In fact, I have never been hugged so much since I met Ginette 38 years ago.

 

But I always thought that if I ever could do more in my life, I would do it for Timmy.  People with intellectual disabilities deserve our love.  They deserve our support, both in our local communities and in the wider community called Canada.

 

Working with the Special Olympics is a priority for me in my new position.  When people ask me why this important to me, my answer is simple.  I love Timmy and I love sport.

 

One of the most precious moments for me over the last year was when I had the privilege to be part of Canada’s Special Olympics Team in Nagano, Japan.

 

Travel is a wonderful thing and I have been lucky to have had jobs that have taken me all over the world.  It’s not often that you travel across the globe and feel at home.  But ladies and gentlemen, I felt very much at home last March in Nagano, Japan with Canada’s Special Olympians.

 

There was one Olympian, Raymond Rockburn who captured by heart. Raymond who is in his fifties had just finished his practice routine. Not only does Raymond have an intellectual disability, he has a severe hearing problem. When approached by a woman to chat, Raymond didn’t respond. Finally after getting his attention, she asked, “Raymond, why didn’t you answer me?”

 

Raymond, who had his hearing apparatus turned off, looked at her and said “well, every athlete needs a bit of down time.”  Raymond didn’t take too much down time, he won gold in his category.

 

At Nagano, Special Olympians from more than 80 different countries came to compete in floor hockey, snowshoeing, short-track speed skating, cross-country skiing, figure skating and alpine skiing.  They came to feel the excitement of pushing themselves to the limit and giving all they had to give.

 

And they gave and gave.

 

Here I was in Nagano and there they were: 200 Athletes cheering and being cheered as they entered the Special Olympics site.  It was Canadian athletes like Raymond Rockburn who were leading the cheering.  And for me it was yet another moment where there are no borders when it comes to Special Olympians.

Canada’s Special Olympians gave wonderful performances and throughout the Games, they gave smiles and hugs that I will remember forever.  I got to share some pretty special moments.  Like when Alyssa Dawn Hatton, a 14-year-old downhill skier from Alberta, moved up from the novice category to the intermediate category. She raced down the hill to a third-place finish.

 

There were hugs for her parents and, in fact, hugs for everybody — even for me, a stranger, who watched with tears flowing freely down his face. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know me. In her hug, I felt my son’s hug, Timmy’s hug.

 

To witness the athleticism of a Special Olympian is to witness the best of what humanity has to offer. To watch the commitment and pride of families, coaches and volunteers has been a privilege that I hope more Canadians will be able to share.  And thanks to fundraisers like this one, and your generous contributions, the Special Olympics will continue to thrive and touch the lives of more Canadians.

 

Before closing, I would like to tell you a brief story about a speech I gave to a group of communication specialists in Ottawa last week.  They were from big business and big government departments and they were looking for the big picture story.  Of course, I didn’t mind talking about how we worked in the Prime Minister’s office, nor did I mind talking about those wonderful days at CTV.

 

But I tried to emphasize that the real big picture is how we act in our personal lives.  And the most important things in life are our families and our friends.  Where I come from in Northern New Brunswick, we have this corny saying and you have to say with a maritime accent…There is no shore like the north shore that’s for sure…..

 

I don’t know if you have a saying in Prince George but I am sure after witnessing the spirit of this evening, there is no place quite like Prince George.  A place where a Liberal Senator can be asked by a Conservative Member of Parliament to come and speak of what we have in common as Canadians.

 

That we care for others, that we love our children and that we especially love Special Olympians.  We should stop just for a moment and think, look what Dick Harris has done, look at what you have done, look at what your community continues to do.

 

Isn’t that what life is supposed to be about?  About giving, and I hope in my case, about giving back.

 

Conclusion

 

My father taught me how one individual can make a difference in his or her community.  By your presence here tonight, I think you know that too.  My life experience has taught me that there are always opportunities to make a difference.  It is up to us to reach out.  As a Senator I continue to do just that.  I will build bridges and engage with people and with communities, and advance causes that are close to my heart.

 

And believe me, no cause is as close as the Special Olympics.

 

Thank you very much.

 

To witness the athleticism of a Special Olympian is to witness the best of what humanity has to offer.  I felt so privileged to have shared that moment with you, athletes, and with your family, coaches, and volunteers.

 

Thank you for making me part of your winning team.