SENATOR MUNSON’S FIRST ADDRESS IN THE SENATE OF CANADA

Senators,

 

First  I would like to congratulate the new leadership in the  Senate,  Senators Austin, Rompkey and the Honourable  Rose Marie Losier Cool…..but before I get  too partisan, I would like to pay tribute to two Progressive Conservative friends, Findley Macdonald and Dalton Camp.

 

Like two other Maritimers, Allan Maceachen and Al Graham, they were generous with their knowledge, their spirit and most of all — their time — when I first arrived on Parliament Hill in 1974.

 

Over the years, especially sitting on Findley’s front porch in Chester, Nova Scotia, I would spend hours doing something which is sometimes difficult to do — and that is listening.

 

Those days and nights were very special.

 

Je suis très heureux d’être parmi cette illustre compagnie aujourd’hui.  C’est une grande journée pour moi, la première journée d’une nouvelle étape de ma vie.  Je suis certain qu’avec mes collègues distingués, nous allons faire du bon travail ensemble.

 

I am sure that my honourable colleagues had similar feelings the first day they found themselves addressing the Senate of Canada.  I’m sure that, like me, they felt varying degrees of humility, pride, and perhaps a good dose of bewilderment and nervousness.  One can’t help but look back on one’s own life journey to see the turns in the road that have led to this Chamber.

 

For me, it started with my father, the Reverend J.E. Munson who passed away just a few months ago.  He was 93.

 

He was a great father, a man who believed in service for the greater good, a man who believed in the responsibility we all have toward making our communities and our country places of peace, goodwill, and shared prosperity.

 

It was my father who took his son with him to deliver hampers on Thanksgiving and Christmas as he visited families across the tracks from our comfortable home.  He took me with him so that I would learn that we all have a responsibility to help those in need.  It was one of my first lessons in social values.

 

My father also loved politics and took me with him when candidates for the general election came to our town of Campbellton.  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.

 

And I’ve been a Liberal ever since.

 

 

If these stories explain my political allegiance, they also demonstrate the importance of early experiences in the shaping of one’s destiny.  When the former Prime Minister offered me a job as a senior communications advisor, my father said, “What a wonderful opportunity”.  If my father were alive today, I know what he would say.  He would say, “Jim, what a wonderful opportunity.  You have a chance to do good.”  And that, Senators, is what I will aim to do as I join you in this Chamber.

In my many years as a journalist, I studied politics with a view to tell a story.

 

When I became a staffer in the former Prime Minister’s Office my journalist friends asked, “What’s it like on the dark side”.  I offered one answer in all sincerity.  I replied, “I have been enlightened.”  And now I am offered yet another perspective into Canada’s political system.  I welcome more enlightenment, Senators, and I am truly honoured.

 

A few weeks ago, when I was a freshly minted Senator, I was at my son’s soccer game, where another parent greeted me with a kiss and warm congratulations.

 

And then, with a voice that rose above the cheers and jeers of the soccer pitch, she asked me, “But what exactly do you do in there?”  Referring, of course, to this Chamber.

 

It doesn’t take long to determine that indeed, we do a lot in here.  I am honoured to join the ranks of other Senators who have devoted their efforts to righting what they see as wrong in our society.

 

I am honoured to work along side someone as devoted as Joyce Fairbairn who has directed her efforts to literacy; with Landon Pearson who has devoted her life to helping children, both at home and in countries far from here; with Wilbert Keon, who as a Senator, continues to make invaluable contributions in support of the Ottawa Heart Institute; and with Thelma Chalifoux, who has done so much on behalf of Métis and Aboriginal People, and indeed, all people in regards to human rights, aging, and gender issues.

 

 

The recent Speech from the Throne spoke of removing barriers to opportunity.  As I take my seat, Senators, I plan to work toward building bridges of opportunity for others, particularly children.  Policies since 1993 have made a difference when it comes to child poverty in Canada, but we know there is more we must do.  A working family that must visit a food bank doesn’t care that the rates of child poverty have declined.  A parent who must say “no” when a child needs a new pair of skates doesn’t care that the rates of child poverty have declined.  But we, the Parliamentarians of this great country, must care.  We must take action.

 

Several years ago when I was working as a broadcast journalist, I covered a story about a community centre for kids in Whitney Pier, Nova Scotia near Sydney.  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.

 

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, and when.  The stories I told could make a difference.  They could help make change for the greater good.

 

As a journalist, Senators, I covered stories that dealt with some of the most disturbing and depressing sides of the human condition.

 

For not every story had an alternative ending, like the Whitney Pier Community Centre.  There were the children of Davis Inlet.  There was Tiananmen Square.  As a journalist, I often asked myself the question:  “How can I do more?”  Now, Senators, now, I can do more.

 

As I said, I want to devote my efforts to building bridges of opportunity for the less fortunate.  That is why I will be working with Special Olympics Canada, a national grassroots organization that provides sports training and competitive opportunities to more than 25,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities.

 

I will also be working with the Ottawa Senators Foundation, an organization that helps disadvantaged youth in a variety of ways.

 

That’s what I’ll be doing in here.

 

There are many detractors of the Senate, I don’t have to tell you that.  But I believe strongly that non-politicians can play a pivotal role in government.  One only has to look at how provincial governments, the federal government, and the private and voluntary sectors are cooperating to promote literacy to see the handiwork of Senator Fairbairn.

 

One only has to look at the legislation and social policies on behalf of children to see the mark of Senator Pearson.

 

A strong democracy is not about perfection.  It is about striving for something better.  That is why I am also a supporter of Canada’s Firearms Program, a program that also enjoys the support of the vast majority of Canadians.  We know that the program has had problems, but we also know that it has saved lives.

 

It has improved the security of Canadians by providing police officers with important information before they arrive on a crime scene, by keeping firearms out of the wrong hands, by reducing the number of lost and stolen firearms, by protecting spouses – usually women – from abusive partners, and finally, by reducing the number of firearms being used in crimes.

 

J’amène avec moi beaucoup d’énergie, Sénateurs, et beaucoup de respect pour le travail de ceux et celles qui travaillent pour mettre en place nos politiques.  Pendant les dernières années j’ai vu le travail des fonctionnaires et des politiciens.

 

J’ai vu leur dévouement et intelligence.  J’ai un grand respect pour leur capacité de collaborer et de prendre une idée et d’en faire une politique ou un projet de loi.  Une mesure qui a pour but le bien-être de tous.

 

There is a call for a change in parliament, a call for us to develop a new culture of collaboration and consultation.  This is very positive.  There is a call for greater transparency which I agree with.  I believe that as a Senator, I should be held to the highest ethical standards.  This is why I will be supporting C-34.

 

I believe this bill is in the best interests of the Senate and ultimately strengthens our parliamentary traditions.

 

But let me be clear, while I support change and renewal, it must be rooted in the rich traditions of liberal social policies.  I intend to uphold the Liberal legacy of Pearson, Trudeau and Chrétien, a legacy that stresses the importance of social policy in the political equation of the times.  Canada can be proud to have one of the most successful liberal regimes of any country in the world.  We cannot abandon our history to the demands of the present.

 

As a Senator I will raise awareness and bring issues to the attention of Cabinet.

 

My father taught me how one individual can make a difference in his or her community.  My life experience has taught me how much more of a difference we can make as a team.  I am a team player literally and figuratively.  Perhaps not an Ottawa Senator, but as a Senator in Ottawa.

 

Here in the Senate I will be one of the players that helps make the plays.  I will build bridges, engage with people and with communities, and advance causes that are close to my heart.

 

I consider government as an agent of good, Senators, and all of us here in Parliament have our moment to take to the floor and help create the conditions that provide individuals and communities with opportunities to flourish.  For as the Throne Speech stated, by sharing opportunity, we also share prosperity.  We have a role to play.  That is something we can do in here.

 

Our opportunities are not limited by our borders, either.  Canada is an international success story and the envy of countries around the globe.

 

We have made our mark by our contributions and our actions, and also by the pluralism and openness of our society.  I am very proud that the Prime Minister’s reply to the Speech from the Throne confirmed that Canada will be moving ahead with legislation to provide low cost pharmaceuticals to combat HIV/AIDS in least developed countries.  It is to be called the Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa Act, a fitting tribute to the international vision and integrity of the former Prime Minister.

 

With actions such as these, the Throne Speech gives us direction.  It is our game plan.

 

We have an outstanding team:  Viola Léger, Frank Mahovlich, Tommy Banks, Vivan Poy, and I have already mentioned Landon Pearson and Joyce Fairbairn.

 

Senators, I am very proud and yet humble to be among this distinguished group.  I promise to do everything I can to contribute to an effective team that has the best interests of Canadians at heart.

 

I am ready to make a contribution, as my father taught me to do, toward the greater good of Canada.  And I intend to have much to say next time on the soccer pitch when asked, “Just what is it that you do in there?”

 

Thank you, Senators.  Merci beaucoup.