NOTES FOR REMARKS BY SENATOR JIM MUNSON IN HONOUR OF THE USHER OF THE BLACK ROD
Honourable Senators, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the wonderful work of someone who is a constant companion to all of us. Senators, we do not often take the time to publicly praise those that we work with, but today I would like to recognize this inspired individual… The Usher of the Black Rod.
Senators, two weeks ago I had the opportunity to witness Mr. Terrance Christopher hosting 5,000 runners, here on Parliament Hill. The 5,000 children were here as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of Terry Fox’s courageous run.
What was clear to me as I watched Mr. Christopher address the crowd was that his enthusiasm, his passion and his caring for the cause of cancer research has not waned in the 25 years since we first watched Terry Fox.
What I have also learned is how instrumental Mr. Christopher was in promoting Terry Fox’s original Marathon of Hope. As campaign chairman of the Canadian Cancer Society in Eastern Ontario, Mr. Christopher watched Terry Fox dip his artificial leg into ocean off the coast of Newfoundland.
He went on to persuade the Canadian Cancer Society to sponsor the marathon and worked tirelessly to promote the Marathon once it reached Eastern Ontario, even going so far as to arranging a meeting between Terry Fox and Pierre Trudeau here in Ottawa.
Since 1980, the annual Terry Fox Run has generated over $340 million dollars. Honourable Senators, it is safe to say that without the Usher’s tireless efforts at promoting the original Marathon of Hope, this number would be much lower.
Honourable Senators, an article in last weekend’s Globe and Mail highlighted the importance of such fundraising efforts: every seven minutes, two Canadians are diagnosed with cancer, and one dies almost as often. In 20 years, as the population grows and ages, two will be diagnosed every five minutes, and one will die.
Honourable Senators, the efforts of Mr. Christopher and his colleagues to fund cancer research are increasingly important as the creation of a new National Cancer Strategy is still a long way off.
So please join me in congratulating our devoted colleague, Terry Christopher.
I decided to move west – gradually – and my first stop was Montreal. That was in 1970.
I’m sure there are at least a few of you who remember the fall of 1970 and the FLQ crisis. Canada had never seen anything like it: kidnappings, assassination, soldiers in the street, the War Measures Act. It is an unfortunate reality for news journalists that reporting on the misfortunes of others can lead to career breakthroughs and promotions. That is what happened to me. The FLQ crisis was my opportunity to prove myself.
I was the only English reporter to witness Pierre Laporte’s body. His tragic death nudged me further along my career path.
The Trudeau years were exciting ones for journalists on Parliament Hill. He was a colourful, intelligent man. You can say whatever you like about him, but you couldn’t call him boring. .
There have been other brawls (which I won’t talk about) and other tragedies too. As a journalist I have traveled the globe and reported on historic, but terrible events: the assassination of Indira Ghandi, the downing of Air India, the Gulf War, and Tiananmen Square.
There were many times when I was reporting on a story that I had to ask myself: is there more that I can do?
That opportunity came my way, but not without a few detours. One day, after years and years of being a national television reporter – including as bureau chief in London and in Beijing – and with two Gemini nominations under my belt, I was told by CTV that my services were no longer required. In other words, I was fired.
I don’t know if something like that has ever happened to any of you, but let me tell you, it’s a life event that packs a punch.
But as difficult as these life events are, and we’ve all been through them, they make you re-evaluate your priorities and appreciate the people who have helped you along the way. For me, this is my family, my lovely wife Ginette and our two fine sons. It is the buddies I play basketball with on Saturday morning. It is my mother and my late father. It is the community around me. The place that I call home.
As I said, opportunities came my way. A man who I had filed stories about was looking for someone to help him with media relations.
He was a guy with a similar type of background as me – a guy from a small town, a guy who cared about family and community and this country we call Canada. I think you’ve heard of this guy. His name is Jean Chrétien. He asked me to come on board at the Prime Minister’s Office to help with media relations.
For the first time in my career I was no longer a news reporter. I was the mouthpiece of a news maker. My journalist friends asked me what it was like working in the Prime Minister’s Office – the “dark side” – they called it.
My answer to them was, “I am enlightened.”
I never got into any shoving matches with Jean Chrétien. But like Pierre Trudeau, he wasn’t one to let himself get pushed around. He is a fine man and was a wonderful boss. One I was proud to serve. It was a wonderful opportunity to work for him, although it was a job I would not have planned on having – not for a million years. Sometimes our paths take us in surprising directions.
And no one was as surprised as me with the next turn of events. I know that many Canadians – and I was one of them – criticize the Senate.
When I was appointed to the Senate, I was nervous. Once again, I found myself in unchartered waters. But I recognized a good opportunity when I saw it. And it has been a great opportunity for me to be able to give back to Canadians and to Canada.
In addition to going over government legislation with a fine toothed comb and debating it – yes! We do debate bills! There are no rubber stamps in the Red Chamber! I have an opportunity to promote causes that are close to my heart. For me, that is children, sport, and treatment for autism. I have had the privilege to be part of Team Canada at the Special Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
I don’t know if any of you have ever had a chance to attend a Special Olympics event, but I urge you to do so. The Special Olympics, which provide mentally challenged people with opportunities to train and compete in international sporting events, is the perfect cure for cynicism and negativity. All you have to do is see the smiles on the faces of Special Olympic athletes to know what a great movement it is. It is certainly a cause that I am proud to help.
I am also involved in an international program called SOS Children’s Villages which helps orphans around the world by providing love, a home, and a community that cares for them.
I am also deeply concerned about the issue of autism, a condition that is growing among Canadian children and poses a huge burden on families because our health care system does not completely cover the treatment of choice for the disorder.
So you see, for me now, the time has come to give back and make a difference. It is a privilege to do so. And let me tell you, the list of Senators who are working passionately on issues is a long one. There are 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 have worked tirelessly to make children and literacy top policy items.
Senator Sharon Carstairs from Manitoba has undertaken pioneering work in palliative care. Jean Lapointe works in the area of addictions and rehabilitation. Terry Mercer promotes the voluntary sector and supports several charities. Norm Atkins has brought diabetes and issues of disability to the attention of decision-makers. Aurelien Gill is an ardent defender of the rights of Aboriginal people in Canada. Senator Andreychuk combats human trafficking.
Time doesn’t permit me to name every Senator, but believe me when I tell you that much good is being done to address problems, find solutions, and improve the quality of life of Canadians.
So when I look back on my career path and the road that has brought me here to you today, I think that a better name for it would be a dream path. Long-term planning had little to do with my destination. I have trusted myself to the values given to me by my parents and those shared by the small-town community I call home. I have trusted in myself and in the goodness of others. I have tried not to be cynical and to be open to other people and new opportunities.
I guess that’s what brings me here tonight: a new challenge, a new audience, a new town, but I hope also, among new friends. You have come here together for work-related reasons, but I know that like me, you understand that work is only a part of who we are. I look at the good work All Weather Windows undertakes in the community and I am impressed. You are giving back by helping kids with cancer, disabled people, people in crisis. You are providing funding for research and equipment in hospitals. You are supporting colleges and the fine arts. I see you also support the Edmonton Down Syndrome Society – that is a cause that is very close to my heart.
The list goes on: you provide kids with opportunities to go to camp, you help the homeless, you provide windows and doors for shelters, hospices, and to Habitat for Humanity. I congratulate you. If all businesses were as involved in the community as All Weather Windows, we could solve a lot of problems in Canada. But as you give back to the community, please remember to give back to your family. Everything starts with family and family is what nurtures and inspires us as we do our work and wander down our life path.
You know how important it is to look out your windows to the world beyond and see where you can make a difference, in your family and in your community. Be guided by curiosity, imagination and compassion. If you can do one thing every day to make a difference in someone else’s life, you will be able to call that a good day.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you all many, many good days.
Thank you very much.