Visit to CanAssist

 

Friends.  Thank you so much for welcoming me here today.  I have had such a wonderful visit in the labs this morning and I thank you for opening these doors to me.  In fact, you’ve done more than open doors for me, you’ve opened my mind to a world of wonderful possibilities.

The work that you do is all about openness.  With great creativity and impressive ingenuity you are opening up the world for people who day after day face limitations and closed doors.  Your work is about making the impossible possible.  I think that CanAssist has lived by the slogan “Yes, We Can” long before Barack Obama made it famous.

Innovative technology often leaves us breathless and amazed because it shows us just how clever human beings can be – how smart and creative the human brain can be.  This is impressive.  But your work goes much farther and impresses me even more because your work is as much about the human heart as it is about the human brain.

OPTION:  TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE PROJECTS YOU SAW – PEOPLE YOU MET

When it comes down to it, your work is about people.  It’s about helping people.   It’s about doing good in the world.

“Doing good in the world” is something we should all strive to do.  I learned this at a very early age from my father, the Reverend J.E. Munson.

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.

Growing up in Campbellton, New Brunswick my father took me with him to deliver hampers on Thanksgiving and Christmas as he visited families.
He took me with him so that I would learn that we all have a responsibility to help those in need.

And if my father had been alive when I became a Senator, I know what he would have said.  He would have said, “Jim, what a wonderful opportunity.  You have a chance to do good in the world.”  And that is what I have aimed to do in the Senate.

In my work as a Senator, I always ask myself, “what will this piece of legislation mean for kids and families?”
As part of Liberal Caucus, I make a point of reminding colleagues that politics is about people and that we need to be motivated to do good for more people.  I find this work very rewarding and was pleased to sponsor a bill in the Senate recognizing April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day.  This bill was a result of an inquiry I launched to look into the issue of autism and the unequal access to resources and support facing families across the country.

 

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology held hearings and heard from groups working with and representing people with autism, people with autism themselves, doctors, researchers, social workers, teachers, community activists – we heard from everyone.   And our report Pay Now or Pay Later, Autism Families in Crisis, received full support from all political parties in the Senate and helped increase awareness of this growing problem in Canada.

 

This type of work is very satisfying, but my favourite part of being a Senator is the work I do outside the Senate Chamber – off Parliament Hill.  That is where I find my inspiration and energy – by building bridges of opportunity for the less fortunate.

I am working with Special Olympics Canada, a national grassroots organization that provides sports training and competitive opportunities to more than 32,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities.  It was a Canadian, Dr. Frank Hayden, who in the 1960s raised awareness about the low fitness levels and lack of motor skills of people with intellectual disabilities.
It was the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver who took this research and in turn founded the Special Olympics – now a worldwide movement that has done so much to break down barriers, raise awareness, and open doors to opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.

It’s a great movement and I’ve been a proud Ambassador at the Shanghai Special Olympics Games and the Winter Games in Boise, Idaho.

But I am also involved for personal reasons.  Ginette and I lost our first son, Timothy, in 1969 – the year the Special Olympics were founded.  He was only 9 months old when he died.
He was a Down Syndrome child.  Ginette and I got through that time together.

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 team is a priority in my new position.  When people ask me why this important to me, my answer is simple.  I love Timmy, I love children, and I love sport.

On the international level, I am involved in SOS Children’s Villages, an organization that provides homes to orphans around the world.  In Ottawa, I am happy to support many local groups including, Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa and non-governmental organizations working to eliminate child poverty.
I also look for opportunities to engage youth in their communities.  Each November we celebrate National Child Day and I work with other Senators to open the doors of the Red Chamber and fill our seats with sixth and seventh graders from schools across Ottawa.
We invite young performers and leaders and we spend the morning celebrating kids and how they contribute now to a better Canada.  Too often we say Children are our Future – but I believe children are our Now.  They contribute now and need to be involved now.

And today, I am happy to be here and support the work of CanAssist and your clients and families.

I derive tremendous pleasure and satisfaction from being involved with groups that make a difference – groups that “do good”.

“Doing good” can translate into work that is incredibly complicated and sophisticated – like the work carried out in your labs.  That’s where the brain struts its stuff.  But first comes the heart – the belief that everyone has a place – that everyone has a role to play –that everyone should be included.

You’ve shown me today what great things can happen when hearts and brains work together.  Thank you once again for having me with you here today.  I’ve learned a lot and appreciate the opportunity to see the amazing things you are doing.  Please keep up the good work.  You’re an example for all of us.