Speech from the Throne—Motion for Address in Reply

By: The Hon. Andrew Cardozo

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Maman statue and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Hon. Andrew Cardozo: Honourable senators, I rise today to respond to the Speech from the Throne, in the spirit of the long-held tradition of this inaugural speech. I will speak about immigration in Canada and provide a personal perspective.

I have chosen this time because yesterday, April 15, marked 50 years since my family and I arrived in Canada. I stand here as a senator in the august Senate Chamber of Canada. There is much to reflect on.

I want to talk briefly about our family history but, more importantly, relate it to the journey of immigration that is common to many of you and, indeed, millions of Canadians.

A few years before our arrival here, my parents, Len and Melba Cardozo, travelled to the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, where they visited family and friends before making the decision to apply to come to this country. It has remained a family consensus that this was the best decision they could have made.

We arrived in Toronto, Canada, on April 15, 1974, and stayed with family for the first few weeks. Those initial days in Canada were both wondrous and scary. This was the society I’d dreamed of once my parents told us we would be moving.

Having been a teenager, my memories are clear, albeit of mundane things: the incredibly clean and shiny look of a drug store, faded bell-bottom jeans, ice cream sundaes at Howard Johnson’s, “Bennie and the Jets” and, yes, “(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka — my introduction to CanCon, or Canadian content, which I would regulate many years later as a commissioner at the CRTC, or Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

It was scary because it was a new society. Although English was my first language, my accent was often not understood and, yes, I got called names, which was debilitating. However, the abiding message from my new society, teachers, neighbours and many extended family members was to work hard and get involved.

As I turned 18, the message was that life would be tough but could be good. My first guidance counsellor suggested I not go to university but to college. Streaming was the thing to do with all new immigrants. Streaming is almost a metaphor for what most immigrants experience through their lives. Assumptions are made about our abilities.

Like for most of you, my family history goes back a long way and to another part of the world, and has had various twists and turns. Originating in Goa, India, a former Portuguese colony, my ancestors were likely converted from Hinduism to Catholicism in the early 1500s.

In the 1800s and 1900s, my mother’s and father’s families settled in Karachi, which, after British rule and partition, was the main commercial city in Pakistan.

Sadly, by the early 1970s, my parents were concluding that, with the rise in fundamentalism, life was becoming difficult for us as Christians. They looked to move to a more hospitable country.

Like in many immigrant families, my father — who had earlier been a senior executive — worked extremely hard at the job he’d attained and, through his example, taught us that hard work was a thing to be proud of.

My mother returned to work after many years and essentially helped put us through university, and that somehow included typing our essays well into the night back in the days of typewriters and Wite-Out. In her later years, I am proud to say that she became the poster lady for retirement residences as she came into her own and was, in effect, a leader. As a piano player, she entertained many fellow residents several times a week, whether at afternoon tea or weekend religious services, and took those responsibilities very seriously, often telling us not to show up at certain times because she would be otherwise occupied.

In the early years, our family didn’t have a lot of money. We rarely saw the inside of a restaurant or stayed in a hotel, but my parents found ways to entertain many family and friends in our home with food, delicious treats and music to suit the occasion. This chapter of my life is entirely typical of immigrant families. I’m convinced that some scenes from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding were shot right in our home.

I received my Canadian citizenship in 1978. I recall being asked in my citizenship test about what the Governor General did. Back then, being a smart-aleck third-year political science student and not much of a monarchist, my answer was less than politic. I probably almost lost my chance at the brass ring, but I must have aced the rest of the test; on January 17, 1978, I became a proud and delighted Canadian citizen.

Colleagues, I often feel that Canadian-born folks miss out on the citizenship ceremony. Words cannot describe the depth of joy and pride of becoming a Canadian citizen through a citizenship ceremony. Perhaps it is a ceremony that all students should go through at the age of 18. I disagree with the current proposal to do away with the ceremony and replace it with a click on a keyboard.

After university, I came to Ottawa for my first job. Soon, Ottawa became home. I got married, went back to university and, soon after, we had kids. While I have been terribly blessed with a fulfilling career, my favourite job was surely the four years I stayed home with our two kids, Alice and Anthony, when they were little. I was one of the few dads who stayed home back then. Sadly, 30 years later, things have not changed much.

My career, while not by design, has been largely in and around government, always focused on some key areas of public policy, which have included the Canadian Constitution, diversity, skills development and, more generally, how public policy is made. I have also enjoyed teaching communications and political science at Carleton University, where I learned as much as I taught.

Colleagues, I’m pleased to tell you that I am one of the leading Canadian experts on the 1908 general election; that was the last one that Wilfrid Laurier won. The fact that it was one of the most inconsequential elections in Canadian history may explain why only one other person has studied this election and has ever written a thesis, like me. But I digress.

Let me say a few words about belonging. In any society this is an interesting issue, but in a country with a high immigrant population, it is always a dynamic question.

I am sometimes asked how I identify myself, and I have learned that the purpose of the question depends on the context. Let me share a few examples.

I recall desperately not wanting to be identified as a newcomer when my teachers introduced me to a classroom when I first arrived in the spring of 1974. As a new immigrant, I just wanted to fit in and be one of the regular students. And indeed there was one student who would call me names in the corridor to make sure I was not regular.

One time many years ago, my physiotherapist, a man of very few words whom I would visit from time to time, was suddenly one day curious about my origin. I thought it was a bit odd at first, but then he told me he was reading the novel A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, which blew him away, and he wanted to talk to someone about all things Indian.

I remember one time in Havana, Cuba, being asked where I was from, and I said I was from Canada. The woman responded in delight, “Oh, you are a Canadian,” she said. “I learned English so I could sing Céline Dion songs.” I became an instant Céline Dion fan from there on. Of course, now when I am asked where I am from, the answer people are looking for is, “I’m a senator from Ontario.”

So identity and belonging depend on the context.

Let me say a few words about Canadian society and values. We are one of the most sophisticated countries when it comes to rational and progressive public policy through a process of democratic elections, citizen engagement, a free press and good policy development. And while this may be more the ideal, I do think the success stories far outweigh the failures.

Our successes include a strong, thriving mixed economy, with G7 standing; the Charter of Rights; policies that promote bilingualism and multiculturalism; the robust role we play on the international stage, including our relationship with our neighbour to the south, the United States.

Our most glaring failure has been a history of discrimination toward the original inhabitants of this land, the First Nations, Inuit and Métis. A robust ongoing process of reconciliation is essential and, sadly, not near completion.

As I wind up, let me say that our challenges for today and tomorrow are to navigate one of the most difficult and complicated periods in human history. A couple of years ago, the word “polycrisis” was invented to describe the many crises we faced at one time. Today that word is insufficient, as we have something more like a “hyperpolycrisis.”

My fear is that as the world becomes incomprehensibly complex, too many people the world over are looking for simple and simplistic answers. Sadly, there are politicians who are prepared to offer that, knowing full well that complex, multi-faceted problems require complex, multi-faceted solutions.

From the end of World War II to the end of the last century, the world was becoming a more peaceful place, dedicated to human rights, democracy, fairness and equity. Something changed around Y2K, and since then we have seen the growth of polarization, backlash to equity and human rights and a yearning for authoritarian leaders.

The growth of polarization and the threat to new media are issues that I keep a close eye on and, as a senator, I am convening Canadians when I can in various ways so we may identify solutions.

As we prepare for an interesting year in Canadian politics, in these uncertain and complicated times, it is with great humility that I can tell you that I’m extremely proud to serve in the Senate of Canada.

I am deeply proud to serve in the Senate of Canada with you as colleagues. It is way beyond anything I could have dreamed about the day I arrived in Canada 50 years ago. Thank you.

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