The Honourable Dennis Dawson—Expression of Thanks

By: The Hon. Dennis Dawson

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Halls of Parliament, Ottawa

Hon. Dennis Dawson: Honourable senators, and Your Honour, first of all, I want to apologize. Last night there was a reception for my departure at Métropolitain, as everybody has mentioned. When the Speaker was walking into the room, they said, “The guest of honour has arrived; please be quiet.” And he was the guest of honour up until that time, but 30 seconds later, the Prime Minister walked in. Your Honour, I’m sorry, everybody forgot about you, but I still noticed that you were there. So I want to apologize, but I think that you understand it.

I could make a comment to everyone here. As one of the first things I did when I came here, Senator Lapointe, who I did not get along with very much — or at all — had said that these things should last at maximum 15 minutes. We’re going for an hour, all right? I was walking in the other place and I ran into Senator Batters and I said, “No, Senator Batters, don’t be afraid. I won’t use up my full 45 minutes and not give a chance to ask questions because you can’t ask questions.”

Anyway, I’ll come back if I have time at the end.

Honourable senators, my colleagues have heaped so much praise upon me that I’m tempted to reconsider my decision to leave. I will certainly treasure their kind words and trot them out if ever I run for elected office in the future and also to reminisce about the good old days as I grow old, as slowly as possible.

I have an anecdote to share. A former MLA in Quebec City that Jacques Chagnon knows very well decided to leave his job as an MLA and run for the City of Laval as mayor. Everybody got up in the chamber and started talking. People from the Union Nationale started talking about how wonderful this guy was.

Jean-Noël Lavoie is an extraordinary man.

But Jean-Noël Lavoie was defeated for Mayor of Laval, so he ran to succeed himself in his own seat. His publicity was based on the things that the nice people at the Union Nationale had said about him. Don’t be afraid. Senator Plett, don’t be afraid. I’m not coming back as an MP. If I wanted to stay, I would have stayed here. It is a lot easier, and you don’t have to go knocking door to door.

This is the last time I rise in this chamber. Listening to a number of farewell speeches from my departing colleagues over the past years, I have drawn the conclusion that the fewer years spent in the Senate, the longer the farewell speech; the longer the term has been, the shorter the farewell speech. After 25 years, I should sit down right away, but I will not leave it that easy for you.

Again, I want to quote our former colleague Senator Baker — his wife died last week — who was my first seat mate when I walked into the House of Commons 45 years ago. He was sitting beside me there. He was always practically as colourful as Senator Manning, but certainly more interesting. I offer Senator Baker my sympathy for the passing of his wife. As some of us have heard him say so often, “I will be brief.” Senator Baker’s speeches were always a treat to listen to for his gift as a speaker. His wit and clever humour were unparalleled. He was a great inspiration. But today is my turn to be brief and, trust me, I will be.

As the great Québécois singer-songwriter Jean-Pierre Ferland put it, Anne, light the fire in the hearth; I’m coming home. I’m going home to Quebec City after 45 years of splitting my time more or less evenly between there and Ottawa. After two years of hybrid sittings and no need to travel to Ottawa, I’ve decided it’s time for me to go home. Mandatory full-time attendance in Ottawa only forced my hand. Plus, Air Canada cancelled direct flights to Ottawa.

Everything was blowing in the right way for me to retire. I’ll go back to my speech now.

Over all those years in Ottawa and through many ventures across Canada, I have made lots of friends and acquaintances who have become dear to me. In fact, many have become very good friends here in Ottawa. But I’m going back home to Quebec City.

I have made many friends and few enemies, to the best of my knowledge. I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of people over the years, in Ottawa and across the country. However, I decided to focus on Quebec City, my home town, my birthplace, where I could be close to my family and lifelong friends. I cannot leave this chamber without saying a heartfelt thank you to all those who, from near or far, have been important to me throughout my years in the Senate, in particular.

I have had quite a few assistants and staffers. Some of them are in the gallery and several were at last night’s event. Many have moved on to other positions in the political world or in other fields.

Since Senator Gold talked about one of my former assistants — we’re not supposed to name people in the tribute, so I won’t name her, but Kate is up there anyway — Kate did something this morning that I really appreciated. She posted the first speech I made in the House of Commons 40-odd years ago. The problem is that you’ll all see that I haven’t improved much since then. People can go back and listen to it and say, “My God, he hasn’t improved at all.”

I have other staffers here: Arlene, Daphne, Stephen and, finally, Jérémy. They have always managed to make me look good. That’s what we need in staffers. In fact, that’s their first mandate: Make us comfortable, obviously, but make us look good.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for putting up with me through all the ups and downs of parliamentary life in the Senate. I also owe a big thank you to some of my Senate colleagues. I have spent many happy years here since my appointment in 2005. I have not developed a deep bond with every single one of my colleagues, but I have come to know and appreciate many of you.

I have worked closely with many of you over the years. I found in most of you, if not all of you, a genuine drive to serve our compatriots with dedication and to contribute to making our country one of the best in the world. It’s not broken. It might need a little fixing and a little love but, trust me, it’s not broken.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Dawson: That’s about as partisan as I’ll be.

Many senators in this chamber, from all political backgrounds, have actually become friends.

Mohamed, I share that precious moment. It was an opportunity for me to try to — I didn’t succeed in convincing you to join our caucus, but, as Michèle Audette learned — and I’m saying this in front of everyone — even if you have been in the other caucus, you are always welcome in the Progressive caucus.

I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with such talented men and women who make an important contribution to public life and the advancement of matters in their province or territory and at the federal level. There have also been some not‑so-happy years since I was appointed, but that has nothing to do with my colleagues. There have been less propitious events that greatly affected me, mainly our expulsion from the Liberal caucus in February 2014, whose anniversary is approaching. I did end up making peace with this decision, but I did not always agree with this approach and I still haven’t changed my mind.

I had the opportunity last night to have the Prime Minister come to my farewell party. I might have mentioned to him that, even many years later, I did not really appreciate getting thrown out of my political party. I announced to him that I’m going to the Liberal convention in the month of May as a liberated senator that is allowed to have partisan opinions.

The list of people I want to thank after a 45-year career is very long — it could be really, really long. I began my public life at the age of 22 as a school trustee, then as chair of the school board, but I will focus on my final years in the Senate.

The first person I have to thank is the Right Hon. Paul Martin, a friend, a mentor and a guide, who addressed those present at the event organized in my honour last night. He had the excellent idea of appointing me to the Senate in 2005. This was obviously one of his better decisions and I will be eternally grateful to him for that.

I owe him for having had the privilege of sitting in this house and I thank him for having given me this opportunity to serve my fellow citizens. I wish and I hope that I have met his expectations and have made him proud of the confidence he put in me when he appointed me to the upper chamber.

By appointing me to the Senate, he gave me the opportunity to once again contribute to public life in Canada and Quebec. He also made it possible for me to continue serving my fellow citizens, this time in this august institution, the Senate of Canada. I have always considered Paul Martin to be an exceptional individual, the type of person we need in politics, because the only objective guiding those people is public service and improving the economic and social situation of their fellow Canadians.

That said, I took my role seriously, and I consider myself as a senator who truly tried to contribute to parliamentary life. I am proud of my participation in our debates as a legislator.

I made it a point of honour to interact productively with my Senate colleagues in the process that lets us bring a “second sober thought” to the bills and various initiatives that come to the Senate for study and debate.

I want to especially highlight the friendship and support of former senators Serge Joyal, who was my mentor when I was appointed to the Senate, and Francis Fox, a long-standing faithful friend who was appointed to this place at the same time I was.

Jim, I know you are here somewhere. My friend Jim spent 14 years as my leader, although I might have been a pain for him at times because I’ve been known to have independent opinions. It was a pleasure serving with you, with Serge and with all of my colleagues. Earlier, somebody mentioned in one of the speeches that I was one of the last — and that’s true — I started politics with Trudeau the first and I’m finishing politics with Trudeau the second. As we like to say, “from one Trudeau to another.” I have to admit that I’m also the only person in Parliament who is still here — that is, for the next few hours — who has served with both of them. When I leave, he’s going to have to find somebody else to complain about.

But I have to tell you, I’m also the only person in the House of Commons or in the Senate who —

— in French I say that I voted for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,

— and as I say in English, I voted for patriation. I just hope people don’t need the translation to understand that one is liked and one is less liked, whether it’s speaking to the rest of Canada or it’s speaking to Quebec. That’s my political instinct.

I can’t speak about everybody, but I will go over the list of people that made comments. I did joke about Senator Batters not wanting me to speak for 45 minutes. Jane, one of my great accomplishments — and I did an interview with the Senate communication services — was the creation of the progressive caucus. Obviously, we were looking out for ourselves, and I think that we and Terry succeeded in making a successful group. I encourage people to understand that having more caucuses in this place will make it a better place. I’m asking you to understand that. I think we should work on that.

Marc, yes, I have had wonderful staff, but I have to say you have been well served. A lot of people in your office, including your deputy leader, make you look good. So we have to take that.

Senator Plett, yes, we did some shopping in Brussels, I think. I was buying bow ties, and he was buying ties. However, that was probably the only occasion when we had fun because a lot of the times we were more in conflict than anything else. CBC is a very good example of where there was no reconciliation possible. The reality is that he wanted it to disappear. I wanted it to stay. You know what? It’s still there. Senator Plett, it’s going to stay there.

Like Raymonde said, we have known each other for many years. Her husband did law with my wife. Even though we are in different caucuses, we cooperated often in the past. I really appreciate your comments. My son played in kindergarten with her son. It has been a long tradition. My son is now the one with the beard and long hair — where did he get that? I don’t know. Senator Plett and Senator Housakos, he makes his own bow ties too.

Senator Patterson, you were late when I did a demonstration on how to make a bow tie earlier. I won’t do it again because I don’t want to push my luck.

Senator Klyne and Bill C-11 — I had a new colleague sitting with me on the committee, and we prided ourselves on having very independent opinions. We didn’t always get along. But I knew that, in the end, I could always count on his support.

Leo, I was comfortable knowing you were going to speak because I ran into your wife, who was on the Hill, and she told me, “Dennis, don’t be afraid. He is only going to be saying nice things about you.” So that means I don’t get to do any snide remarks about you because you were too nice to me.

Éric Forest is my friend, and now he’s my neighbour in Quebec City. He lives very close to me. I’ll probably have the opportunity to see him more often in Quebec City than I did here in Ottawa.

Amina and Michèle, somebody is going to have to tell me what a mushum is. I’ll ask Michèle to describe it to me. I hope it’s a compliment.

Julie, I am so proud of you. I know I sponsored you, but I think you are an excellent parliamentarian. I’m very proud to have contributed to your career.

Patricia, you’re my cultural instructor. Patricia and I were on the Foreign Affairs Committee doing a study on culture. She was my adviser on the subject that I should have known more about. I learned a lot from Patricia.

Mohamed, yes, I ran into you on the street, and you looked lost. I don’t know if it was because you’re from Newfoundland and Labrador. I don’t know what you were looking for, but I really felt that I could be a little bit of an inspiration. Yes, when we went to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I did try to introduce you to that world, and it’s a wonderful world.

Raymonde also came with us to some of these conferences.

I know it may not seem like it, René, but I have advocated for the LGBTI community at international conferences. When I was in Djibouti, Foreign Affairs officials told me not to talk about the subject.

But a right is a right is a right, and I’m going to say it in Djibouti where it’s prohibited to be homosexual. Then a year later, I went with Raymonde and Mohamed to an Inter‑Parliamentary Union conference in Qatar, and it’s illegal to be homosexual in Qatar. I made my speech, and I said, “A right is a right is a right.” I have always done it my way. I’ve always been proud of having done that.

I lost my place in the speech again.

I’ll just take the opportunity — Pierrette and I have something in common. Josée too, I think. There are a few people here that have sat in both houses. When you leave the other place, and you’re defeated, they don’t give you the chance to say thank you for having served. You don’t have that opportunity. Since I have an opportunity today to thank the people of Louis-Hébert for having elected me in 1977, re-elected me in 1979 and elected me again, I want to thank them for having had confidence in me. In 1984, I have to admit that they made a decision I have to live with. It’s such a small world that the person who defeated me was Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis. Later, she arrived here in the Senate, and she was still in front of me as an opposition senator.

I’m jumping over a lot. I did have a long speech — I’m looking at Paul Massicotte and Senator Greene — about the reform of this place because I do believe it needs to be reformed. A lot of improvements have to be done. However, I think it’s not a time to — I won’t do it. I’m probably going to publish in The Hill Times what I think should be done to improve things, including the fact that there is not only a half kilometre between the House and the Senate, we are now miles away from one another. We don’t contact one another, and we don’t share information. We don’t have relationships. I have often given as an example the fact that when you go to the Office of the Prime Minister, or PMO, they have a desk for LGBTQ, western development, economic development, foreign affairs and American-Canadian relations, but they don’t have a desk for the Senate. Therefore, there is no person to go to at the PMO or the Privy Council Office, or PCO, when you have a senator issue. I think that could be improved.

He said that we’re an independent senate, but he still names the Speaker, and he still names the Leader of the Government, obviously. He is going to be naming the next Clerk. If we’re independent, I would hope that we could have that power. But again, I’m not going to do all those things because I said I would try to shorten my speech. I’ll take those pages away.

This is the part where I take out a box of Kleenex — I’ve got one here. You know that I have spent the — Anne and I have been together for 40 years. In political life, that’s only 20 because I was gone half the time. She endured those days. Cindy, my daughter — who lives here in Ottawa — has been my constant dinner companion. I’m going back home, but I’m going to miss having these dinners with my daughter. That’s the Kleenex, I’m just taking it in case.

I told them that I love them and I look forward to spending more time with them, especially, as has been said many times, with my granddaughter, who joined our clan just a few weeks ago.

Before I leave the Senate chamber, I’d like to share some thoughts about this institution.

That’s the part I’ll be jumping over because I was going to give you advice. With regard to the Massicotte-Greene report and Senator Bellemare’s efforts at the Rules Committee — all of these things — it’s nice to talk about them, but we have to act on them because this place does need —

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Dawson: I did criticize the fact that we were thrown out of caucus in 2014. I actually mentioned it to the Prime Minister last night in a very impolite way — well, a polite way, but not respectful of the fact that he is the Prime Minister and I’m close to being a former senator. However, I did feel that I understand why it was done, but the follow-up and follow through and how — I remember when I arrived when the new independent senators had six independent senators and three government representatives. Now we have 55 independent senators, and we still have three government representatives. The work they have to do to handle all these committees and all these members just means that the PMO and the government have not understood that they also have to adapt for the fact that when you bring someone into the world, maybe you should listen to them.

So, when you give birth to someone, which is the independent senate, you have to listen to what the Senate is saying. The senators are saying, “You have to modernize the rules. You have to help us make this a better place.” It took six years for the Parliament of Canada Act to be changed. I’m very happy for you, but the only thing it meant is that you’re getting money. For the rest, the rules were not changed. It just means they are respecting the fact that if you have a mandate, then that mandate should be recognized. Apart from that, a lot of modernization has to be done. However, if you want to go to the PMO and ask them who will do it, there is nobody in that office mandated to deal with the Senate. I think that’s wrong.

Anyway, there are a lot of things about the reform I would like to get into, but I’ll just jump over those points. I could talk about the appointment process — I think Paul Martin had a good one, and I certainly can’t contest his judgment.

When I was thrown out of caucus in 2014, I really did feel like I should leave. I had a Liberal career, and I believed — and still believe — in partisan politics. I didn’t leave because, after that, we basically recreated the Progressive Senate Group.

I’m looking at the clerks, the Speaker and all the people who have worked in the Senate for the few years I’ve been working on the Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration Committee — I have learned to admire the work they do. It has been a very challenging and interesting experience for me. That’s one of the things I will miss; the Long Term Vision and Plan Subcommittee, the Joint Interparliamentary Council — I will miss those things. There are a lot of things I won’t miss, but I will miss those. I want to thank the people who supported us. I’m looking at Gérald, whom I have known for a long time — I will miss you too, but I will miss these people who are in front of us.

The only thing that was left was the timing of my departure; a lot of things happened. I joked about the fact that there were no more — I had to come back here all the time because they have hybrid sittings in the other place. I don’t understand why they can have hybrid sittings and we can’t; I don’t even understand why they have hybrid sittings. I was there for many years. I was always proud to sit in the House of Commons — I would rather sit in the House of Commons than be on a Zoom committee. They made their decisions.

This isn’t the time to go on and on, but I do know that, throughout my years in Canada’s Parliament, I truly believed I was always serving the interests of our country and our fellow citizens.

I am proud of my years as a senator. Those years have been wonderful in spite of a few bad curves. I wish the best of luck to those of you who will continue to be part of this institution, but it is time for me to go home to my wife, my family and — yes, I will repeat — to my daughter. I’m quite proud; I am anything but bragging. I am humbled by what I have heard here today. I think I have tried to live up to the fact that Paul Martin named me. My problem now is to try to live up to everything that was said.

Once again, I want to thank the people who gave me the opportunity to play an active role in making Canada one of the best countries in the world. I did so humbly but with great conviction and determination. Canada is still the best country in the world.

Thank you. I will be back every once in a while, but as a tourist.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!


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