Mamadosewin (meeting place, walking together)

Farewell remarks by Senator Joseph A. Day

Farewell remarks by Senator Joseph A. Day


Hon. Joseph A. Day: 

Colleagues, I am overwhelmed by your kind words. On this, my last day in the Senate, I’d like to begin my remarks by quoting from the farewell speeches of two former colleagues from my home province of New Brunswick, namely Senator Erminie Cohen and Senator Louis J. Robichaud.

[English]

Senator Erminie Cohen represented the same region of New Brunswick that I do, Saint John-Kennebecasis. In fact, I arrived here after her retirement, filling the seat she vacated. When she spoke for the last time in the Senate, Senator Cohen said:

. . . I have come to think of the Senate and those who fill the benches on both its sides as a unique community within this wonderful land.

She was right. The Senate is a unique community, and we are all uniquely privileged to be part of that community.

And as part of that community, we have an obligation, according to Senator Cohen, to:

. . . persevere in the endless struggle to bring prosperity and wellbeing to all Canadians. . . .

According to another of my New Brunswick predecessors, we are unusually well-placed to do that job. Louis J. Robichaud, after serving as premier of my province, served in this chamber for 27 years. As I was preparing my own remarks, I was curious about what that distinguished politician and close friend had to say as he took his leave from the Senate, colleagues, in October of 2000, just a year before I arrived here. Senator Robichaud made a point, on his final day, of describing what makes our chamber special:

. . . those who support an elected Senate are, in my judgment, making a mistake, because if it were thus, senators would become even more keen politicians than they already are. Senators are balanced, because they are appointed without being elected, for a period of time. They are capable of reflection and are not afraid of expressing their opinions at any time. They are not blinded by purely political considerations . . .

So a chamber whose members are less partisan and more independent than those in the House of Commons has long been a feature of this Senate. It’s not a recent development or a recent discovery.

As Senator Cohen described, we are a unique community, but we are also a small community. Our other legislative bodies measure their membership in the hundreds. Our House of Commons has 338 members. And in the Parliament on which we are modelled, the mother of all Parliaments in the U.K., the House of Commons has 650 members, and the House of Lords has 793 lords. By contrast, our normal working complement here is usually something under 100.

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Our job is to ensure, as best we can, the well-being and prosperity of more than 37 million of our fellow citizens. That is a sobering responsibility for such a small group. Our rules ensure that not a single one of us can be ignored or taken for granted as we do that job here in the Senate.

It has always been expected that we would work together in a collegial fashion, setting aside our personal and partisan differences for the greater good. Do we have differences? Of course we have differences. There have always been differences of opinion in this chamber about what is best for Canadians. Those differences will undoubtedly continue. Those differences exist because when we arrive we bring to the chamber our own individual life experiences.

As you’ve heard, I studied engineering and then went to law school. My formative years were spent at Collège Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean and the Royal Military College in Kingston. In the Senate, I was able to build on that experience. In the year that I arrived, the Senate created the National Security and Defence Committee and the Subcommittee on Veteran Affairs. I was honoured to be given the opportunity to serve on both of those committees. It was also an honour to be a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and to serve as the international vice-president for a term.

As parliamentarians, we have a duty not only to our country and people but also to the people outside our borders, to promote democracy, collective action and enhance every individual’s personal security wherever they may be in this world.

I arrived in the Senate less than a month following the horrific events of 9/11. Our chamber, through the pre-study technique that was being used, was deeply involved in the design of Canada’s immediate legislative response to that terrible event. I was proud to serve on two special committees, one in 2004 and one in 2012, that were subsequently established to monitor anti-terrorism laws.

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly played an important role with respect to the developing terrorist threat by hosting 29 meetings with other parliamentarians of other NATO countries where we shared best practices and ideas moving forward.

Honourable senators, we do not live in a silo called Canada. We live in a country which is a valued and influential member of the international community, and that gives rise to obligations on the international stage. We may have differences about the role we should play, but there are matters where we should have no differences.

I graduated from the Royal Military College in 1968, and the officer cadets were taught, among other values, to find truth, duty and service. These values apply equally to all of us in this chamber. We serve the people of Canada in order to help make their lives as fulfilling as possible.

We have a duty to act truthfully and with integrity with Canadians; to do what is legally and morally right. If the prefix “honourable” before our names is to be deserved, we must act truthfully and with integrity toward one another.

In the military, truth and integrity among the members of one’s unit is paramount because without it the consequences can be fatal. If truth and integrity are compromised in Parliament, it is the well-being of Canadians that suffers, because instead of focusing on Canadians’ needs, we become even more preoccupied with our own internal battles.

Much has been made of the alleged need for fundamental change of our rules and procedures to better reflect the so-called new reality of this chamber and to make the work here more efficient.

On two occasions, I appeared as a witness before the Modernization Committee. I invite honourable senators who might wish to delve deeper into the subject to review my testimony. But I briefly ask: Could the legislative process be made more efficient? The answer is: Yes, it could. Would the executive branch of government be pleased with a more efficient Senate to scrutinize the legislation sent this way? Of course the cabinet would be happy. But what would be the cost to the independence and to the individual authority each of us now possesses as a member of this body and as a member of this small community? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves.

I fear that the unintended consequences of trying to seek greater efficiency have not been fully explored or appreciated. Perhaps they are being fully appreciated by some and for that reason are being encouraged. That all has to be discovered. It should be obvious to all of us that sober second thought was never meant to be about efficiency and speed but about the quality of the result.

In any event, that is a matter for this Senate of the future. I leave it to you to grapple with those challenges. However, I am concerned about the time, energy and resources we are devoting to introspection, about our institution and how it works.

We are a small community with a sobering responsibility for the well-being of 37-million people. Canadians, rightly, expect us to focus on their living environment and not our working environment. That should be our priority here.

When I entered the Senate more than 18 years ago, I did so as a member of the governing Liberal Party and caucus at that time. Much has changed since I arrived. I now leave the Senate as a proud member and leader of the progressive Senate group. This group was created to gather together progressive-thinking and liberal-minded senators who believed that government has an important role to play in the lives and well-being of all Canadians. The progressives are inspired by the Algonquin word mamidosein which means “meeting place and walking together.”

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms lists “freedom of association” as a fundamental freedom. Like-minded individuals who wish to associate with one another in a legislative body, meet and walk together in pursuit of a common vision of what constitutes the public good is, in my view, a good thing. This is how legislative bodies function the world over, so long as they are not in a one-party state.

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So I am pleased that the new progressive group was created, and I am equally pleased that my good friend Senator Jane Cordy has agreed to act as the leader of our group. Senator Dennis Dawson will be her deputy leader and Senator Terry Mercer will be the whip for our group.

[Translation]

In closing, I’d like to thank the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien for giving me the incredible opportunity to serve Canadians as a member of the Senate of Canada. I am immensely grateful to him for appointing me.

[English]

I also thank colleagues on both sides of the chamber for your many years of camaraderie and friendship. You have made my life here interesting and sometimes challenging. I wish to thank all staff members who professionally and loyally assisted me over the many years —

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Day: — particularly Cindy McCavour, who has been with me throughout — thank you — and Len Kuchar, who will be retiring. I’m not sure whether he would be retiring if events had been somewhat different, but he is, after more than 35 years here. Len started working in the Senate as a messenger. He worked with Allan J. MacEachen and virtually all leaders of the Liberal caucus throughout those 35 years. If you ever get a chance — and go quickly, because we won’t be there much longer — to visit his office upstairs, you will see the photographs of all the people he served with.

Thank you, Len.

Finally, I would like to thank all the table officers and pages. You’re great. Chasse, you keep after the pages. Monsieur Denis, I know you have a great team with you, and I am sure you will continue to do the great work, along with our Speaker, that you have in the past.

Thank you all very much.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!