The Honourable Maria Chaput—TributesPublished on 24 February 2016 Hansard and Statements by Senator Claudette Tardif (retired), Céline Hervieux-Payette (retired), James Cowan (retired), Jane Cordy, Joan Fraser (retired), Joseph Day
Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Honourable senators, I rise to pay tribute to our colleague and my friend, Senator Maria Chaput, as she takes leave of us and of this place.
The English writer Penelope Lively wrote: “Language tethers us to the world; without it we have spin like atoms.”
That understanding — that language is much more than words, that a community’s language cannot be severed from the community, that our language is who we are, what binds our past and our future — that is the catalyst that has defined and driven Senator Chaput throughout her life. The result was that she became a leader, a champion of minority language rights and especially of the rights of francophone minorities in Manitoba and across Canada.
These rights were not easily won. On June 5, 2012, Senator Chaput delivered a very moving, often personal speech here in the chamber. The topic was education in minority languages. She spoke about the difficult history of the Franco-Manitoban community, the feeling through generations of, in her words, “. . . a sense of injustice and the desire to reject oppression.” As she said, “. . . Manitoba took a long time to make things right.”
She spoke about the battles she had to engage in as a mother so that her children could attend school in their native tongue, of the hope that permeated her community when Canada adopted the Charter and, as she has spoken of repeatedly this this chamber, the financial challenge involved in upholding those rights and the critical role played by the Court Challenges Program.
She concluded her speech describing how very far her community had travelled. Her grandchildren attended those schools whose very existence she had fought for so hard and so strenuously. They speak French freely and without reservation. They read books of great Franco-Manitoban authors and sing songs of Franco-Manitoban artists. Perhaps the greatest victory was that they and their parents take it almost for granted; this is their normal.
In December 2002, Maria Chaput broke another barrier when Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed her to the Senate to become the first Franco-Manitoban woman to sit in this chamber.
She brought a wealth of diverse experience to the Senate. She was Executive Director of the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre; Deputy Director of the Franco-Manitoban Society; Director of Francofonds, a charitable foundation that supports and promotes the development of Manitoba’s French-speaking community. She was the first female president of the Caisse Financial Group in Manitoba. She was Vice-President of the University of Saint-Boniface Board of Governors, where they now award a bursary in her name. For eight years, she owned and managed a consulting firm that provided services to community organizations and various departments at both the federal and provincial levels.
But of course, beyond even all that experience was her passion to defend the rights of minorities. That is a role that we all know has a long history here in the Senate. Few have claimed that mantle so strongly and with as much determination as Senator Chaput. She’s harnessed facts, history and a strong moral compass to defend the language and cultural rights of minorities across Canada, and especially, of course, of francophone minorities. She’s launched powerful debates in the Senate, speaking on inquiries ranging from the lost Court Challenges Program, to the Senate’s role in protecting minorities, to the critical role of francophone minority newspapers. She proposed legislation — repeatedly, if necessary. Bill S-209, which is now before the chamber, is Senator Chaput’s fourth attempt to amend the Official Languages Act to ensure it meets the needs of francophone minority communities today.
She served as Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. Under Senator Chaput’s leadership, the committee tabled a number of thoughtful, comprehensive and, I believe, influential reports covering a wide array of topics, including bilingualism at Air Canada; linguistic duality at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games; francophone arts and culture in a minority setting; the vitality of Quebec’s English- speaking communities; and the report entitled Internet, New Media and Social Media: Respect for Language Rights!
Colleagues, with her deep knowledge of and dedication to her community, Senator Chaput has been an impressive advocate for her region here in the Senate and an effective ambassador for the Senate in her community.
Not surprisingly, Senator Chaput has received numerous prestigious awards for her work, including in 2011 the French Légion d’honneur, France’s highest distinction, awarded to recognize the battles Senator Chaput led for the francophone communities in Canada. She was also awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Medal; the Ordre des francophones d’Amérique, the Western Canadian francophone leaders award; and the Société franco-manitobaine’s Prix Riel, recognizing her then 33 years of dedication to the Franco-Manitoban community. And those are just a very few of the many awards she has received over her career.
Last week we heard Senator Mercer remark upon Senator Chaput’s heckling skills. I believe it was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” While Senator Chaput has embraced her position as a minority, whether it is as a Western francophone woman or as a polite heckler amongst the minority opposition benches, I think we unanimously agree she has made the world better.
Maria, I know you will be looking forward to enjoying a quieter life than you’ve had here and to spending more time with your three daughters and four granddaughters. It’s well deserved. On behalf of all Canadians, and especially on behalf of all your colleagues that you leave behind here in the Senate, thank you for your hard work. You’ll be missed. My very best wishes go to you and your family over the next stage of your rich and satisfying career.
Hon. Claudette Tardif:
Honourable senators, I’m pleased to rise today to pay tribute to our dear colleague, the Honourable Maria Chaput.
Dear colleague, I want to congratulate you on your 13-year parliamentary career in this chamber. Your genuine commitment to serving our country has been evident.
You courageously and steadfastly promoted linguistic duality in Canada and fought for respect for both official languages, English and French. You made a point of instilling the values that are important to you in your work and initiatives. It has been a lifelong commitment for you to assert language rights and promote official language minority communities.
I was fortunate enough to see first-hand how you understand the issues facing francophone minority communities and to see how you were able to get everyone to agree on important topics as a member and chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. You earned the respect and esteem of all senators.
Under your leadership, from 2006 to 2013, the committee carried out relevant studies that addressed the real needs of official language minority communities. I cannot name them all, but I will share two of them: “Francophone Arts and Culture,” and “Internet, New Media and Social Media.”
Your Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (communications with and services to the public), introduced for the fourth time in the Senate, is proof of your great determination to bring the act in line with the new social realities and demographics of official language minority communities.
You are an excellent warrior and a magnificent unifying force. Franco-Manitobans hold you in high regard, as do all associations and organizations that represent official language minority communities. You’ve helped bring the Senate closer to these communities.
Dear colleague, you are a person of integrity who is dedicated, committed and determined, and you always show respect for others. Thank you for everything you have done for your community, for your colleagues, and for Canada. Your contribution and devotion to la Francophonie are invaluable. Dear Maria, I want to express my deep admiration for your dedication and my sincere affection for you.
Honourable senators, I am sad to see an exceptional colleague and friend leave this place. I will miss you, Maria. I wish you a very happy retirement with Louis, and your children and grandchildren.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Hon. Joan Fraser (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals):
What can I say about Maria Chaput? The first word that comes to mind when I think about her is “kindness.” She is such a kind woman. She is a tenacious woman. Other senators talked about her Bill S- 209. Take heart, Maria. We’ll get there.
She is loyal to her Franco-Manitoban community, loyal to her colleagues, loyal to her party, and loyal to the major causes she defended her entire life. She is a woman of integrity and courage. She is very courageous and kind, as I said.
She can be somewhat self-effacing with her soft voice and her subdued style, but that hardly conceals her iron will. She owes her success in defending her causes in part to that iron will and in part to her extraordinary capacity, her determination, to work hard and work effectively. She is much more effective at getting things done than most. She does not waste time with idle talk; she focuses on the task at hand, and that’s how she succeeds.
She is a person of great sympathy. It was under her chairmanship that the Official Languages Committee of the Senate, for the first time in its existence, did a detailed study of the situation of English Quebecers. It was a thorough study, a good study, for which my community and Senator Seidman’s community was and is very grateful. It’s not a subject that most members of francophone minorities would have found particularly close to their hearts. They have their problems, we have ours, and their hearts are with their communities. I’ll never forget when one day we had finished hearing by video conference a witness from northern Quebec talking about the situation of anglophones in the tiny village where she lived. At the conclusion of the proceedings, Senator Chaput had tears in her eyes.
We are going to miss her. Someone was telling me just today that it takes a great deal of wisdom to effectively protect linguistic minorities. She was very wise. We thank her for everything she did.
Maria, Louis and the entire family, we wish you much happiness and thank you so much.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette:
I almost feel like calling you “my dear little sister,” because I felt as though we were sisters when we sat on the powerful Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, which has reviewed all government spending for many years. I can tell everyone who was not on this committee that Maria would arrive with her neatly written notes — in the handwriting also taught to me by the nuns — and, she would always do a thorough job. Her pointed questions and analyses did not make life easy for the public servants and the ministers who appeared before our committee. I can tell you that she was there to protect Canadians’ interests and to ensure that the money was spent appropriately. I very much enjoyed the experience.
Maria, I must tell you that every time I think of your name, I always think of Maria Chapdelaine. Don’t laugh, for the first syllable of both last names is the same, “Cha,” as in Chapdelaine and Chaput. That image always comes to mind, even though your personalities are nothing alike. The image I have of Maria Chapdelaine, since we learned about that character in French class — or at least we did in Quebec and I imagine the same was true in Manitoba — is the image of the women who marked our history. It is the image of a woman who, ultimately, decided to break ranks. I think that is what we will remember most about you. You were never afraid to stand up and stand out. For you, being part of a minority never meant you had to submit. Instead, you said, “I am proud of my minority. I am proud of my language.” That was always obvious, and that is likely what continued to inspire you all these years.
Dear English friends, I can tell you that when you are a minority, which you are not often except for those speaking English in Quebec, talk to them and learn about how they feel. They have the same feeling that we have in the rest of Canada. Of course Maria is living in the province where French Canadians had to go to the Supreme Court to address the treatment of those in their community and get the system changed.
It is people like Maria — not Chapdelaine, but Chaput — who made it possible for French Canadians originally from France to eventually prevail.
However, the history of the French question in Manitoba is much sadder than in other parts of Canada. I too hope that Bill S- 209 becomes law. Maria worked very closely with Stéphane Dion to introduce a policy. We all hoped that this policy would be implemented one day.
I would also like to say that, in addition to her work on the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, she was also an excellent teammate. I think the people of Manitoba owe her a debt of gratitude and heartfelt thanks for everything she has done for them. All things considered, I am not saying that those efforts were intended for Quebec, but when the French fact is strong in the rest of Canada, it is also strong in Quebec. On behalf of everyone, thank you.
I was very happy to have the opportunity to work with you. I wish you all the best in your new life. Like me, you have three daughters, and we are always so pleased to be able to spend time with them. Best of luck, Maria!
Hon. Joseph A. Day:
Honourable colleagues, it is with mixed emotions that I rise today to address the chamber. I say “mixed” because, like many of you today, I am sad to see Senator Chaput leave the Senate, but at the same time, I was very proud and delighted to have the privilege of serving alongside Senator Chaput for the past 14 years in this wonderful institution.
Throughout her career, the honourable senator proudly represented francophones and was a formidable ambassador who defended the linguistic rights of francophone minorities and ensured that they had a voice at the heart of our democracy in Canada.
Dear Senator Chaput, your passion, perseverance and commitment to francophone communities are obvious. As evidence, you attempted to amend the Official Languages Act three times. Although you did not succeed, you persevered and came back this year with a fourth bill to amend this same legislation. Your dedication and tenacity, even today, continue to make a difference and are truly inspiring.
Senator Chaput is also recognized for her diplomatic skills, as shown by the following story. In the 1990s, Senator Chaput was the executive director of the Centre culturel franco-manitobain in St. Boniface. One evening, after receiving a complaint that the Daniel Lavoie concert was too loud, the senator decided to play detective. She investigated whether the noise was really as loud as the complainant had said. Just imagine the future senator slowly moving unnoticed under the balcony of the house to listen to the music coming from the cultural centre before sneaking away. As a result of her investigation, the Senator decided that the music was not being played too loud and resolved the dispute to the satisfaction of both parties. It was by engaging in these practical activities that she perfected her diplomatic skills. My sincere congratulations.
I am proud to have served with Senator Chaput on the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. Once, she pointed out to me that she enjoyed being part of that committee because it helped her gain a better understanding of how the government works, which in turn enabled her to better serve her community.
Senator, it is a great honour to have served with you in the Senate and in committee. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for Manitoba and for Canada. Thank you.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Hon. Jane Cordy:
Honourable senators, I rise today to add my sentiments and well wishes to our colleague and friend, Senator Maria Chaput.
When she was appointed to the Senate in December 2002, Senator Chaput had already established herself as a leader and business woman in the francophone financial sector. She is the first Franco-Manitoban woman to be appointed to this chamber and has done much throughout her time here to support her community and to encourage pride and interest in her culture and in her language. She has made great strides in trying to improve francophone life in Manitoba and across Canada.
For her work, Senator Chaput has received many awards, including, in 1975, the Prix du journal La Liberté as a francophone woman of action; the Prix Radio-Canada as Manitoba’s outstanding francophone in 1987; and in 1989, the Prix Réseau for being a driving force in the cultural sector. Additionally, she received the Société franco-manitobaine’s Prix Riel for her dedication and for being a role model in her community. In 2002, she was awarded the Western Canada Francophone leaders award, and notably, in 2011, the Légion d’Honneur, the highest distinction of the Government of France in recognition of her work on behalf of francophone communities in Canada.
I am delighted to have had the privilege of working with Senator Chaput in committees, in particular the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee. Her input was always reasoned and greatly appreciated.
Of her time in the Senate, Senator Chaput has said, “I’ve always been the kind of person who really wants to do my work the way it should be done.” She has said that a good senator has to have strong values, believe in the good of Canadians, listen and be able to work with other parties. She, of course, exemplifies those qualities. She has taken much pride in having involved Manitoban communities and minorities over the past 13 years and in the work she has done in bringing the Senate closer to the people.
Despite the seriousness with which Senator Chaput does her job, I am sure you have all noticed the twinkle in her eye. Maria has a wonderful sense of humour; and yes, I would agree with Senator Mercer that her heckling skills have improved considerably under his guidance. And yes, Senator Plett, she is very partisan, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Maria, today we celebrate you and we thank you for all that you have done. Take care and best wishes to you and your family. We will miss you.