Hon. Terry M. Mercer: Honourable senators, many people ask me, when they come to this place, “How do you know that you’ve been here long enough?” I have a standard answer to that, “When you know where all the washrooms are, you’ve been here too long.”
I said that to someone in the East Block one day. And they said, “Well, you must know where all the washrooms are.” I said, “Well, I thought I did, but I found a new one.” I told them where it was, and they said there is no washroom there, and I said, “Well, there is now.”
Anyway, honourable senators, I am actually overwhelmed with gratitude today for all those kind words from you, colleagues. Thank you so much, honourable colleagues. It is very humbling. This is one of the only times in my life that I find myself almost speechless. But don’t worry, Senator Plett, I will get over that.
I’ve lived a wonderful life throughout my many career paths. They all brought me here, to this chamber, where I will walk away knowing that I tried to do some good. I wasn’t always successful, but it was the trying that matters. We are all so privileged to work here in the Senate of Canada.
I cannot help but think of what my parents, Bob and Bessie, would think of me today after serving almost 19 years here. I was fortunate enough that when I was appointed both my dad and my mom were both alive. My dad died before I was sworn in, but my mom was here for that. It is a very important memory to have. As a boy growing up in North End, Halifax, to be standing here is quite a thing. It was a tough part of town. It has become a bit gentrified now, but it’s still a little rough.
I cannot thank everyone in my family enough for their support and their wisdom. To my siblings Colleen, Bob and Paulette — and my brother Gerald, who is now gone — and to their spouses Bob, Robert and Bonnie, and my brother’s late wife Dot, I say thank you as well. I thank you not only for your sound advice but for your constructive criticism — sometimes too much of it — for that is how we learn to be better. Politics around the kitchen table was always interesting in my house and in my family, to say the least. It was almost a contact sport.
My path to the Senate was an interesting one, as many of you know. I would like to mention the late Walter R. Fitzgerald, who was the Minister of Labour and Minister of Housing in Nova Scotia and several times the Mayor of the City of Halifax. He gave me my first real political job as his executive assistant, and this is where I started to hone some of my political skills. But the voters of Nova Scotia would decide the next path in my career, as our government lost the next election in 1978 and I ended up unemployed.
I turned to the charitable and non-profit sector. The Kidney Foundation at the time was looking for their first executive director in Nova Scotia. I took the job and operated the office out of the basement of my house. I had an assistant who lived in another city and did the paperwork. It was a great learning experience, and it welcomed me to the charitable sector. I had been a volunteer in politics for most of my life up until that point, but it was here that I learned just how much more volunteers do and how they and the donors are the backbone of the sector.
After that, and a brief stint as executive director of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party, I would go on to work with the Lung Association of Nova Scotia; the St. John Ambulance, Nova Scotia Council; the Metro Toronto Branch of Diabetes Canada; and the YMCA of Greater Toronto, which, by the way, is the third-largest Y in the world. That was where my career took a major professional turn. The Y demanded professionalism and made sure that you had it. They also helped introduce me to the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
For 60 years now, the AFP has been the standard-bearer for professionalism in fundraising, and I was honoured to be endorsed as a Certified Fundraising Executive. The AFP has been paramount to my professional development, and I thank all the people I have worked with over the years for their support.
It was also during this time that I continued my involvement in the Liberal Party of Canada. Indeed, while I was vice-president of the YMCA of Greater Toronto, I joined a leadership campaign. I became part of the Chrétien leadership team. Believe it or not, as a guy from North End Halifax, I was responsible for all of West End Toronto and part of the suburbs. We did quite well there, and I won’t tell Dennis my secrets of that time, but I know he has heard about them. Eventually I was asked to head the fundraising for the party, and within a year I became the national director.
Words can’t express how much I respect Jean Chrétien. As a matter of fact, I had a phone call from him last night. He was unable to be with me last night because he was away, but he did express his good wishes. I was so proud to have him do that.
There are far too many people to thank at the party office from when I became national director. They were some of the best staff that I have had the pleasure to work with.
I always made a point to support the Young Liberals of Canada and the Nova Scotia Young Liberals, as our youth are the future of our country, not only in the Liberal Party but in all political parties and movements. Young people have a dogged determination and drive to make a difference, and we would all do well to continue to support their efforts regardless of our politics.
Honourable senators, I recall vividly the fateful day in November 2003 when the then-prime minister called me in my Liberal Party office — it was about seven in the evening — to ask me if I wanted to sit in the Senate of Canada. I don’t think I have ever said “yes” to a question so quickly. I remain deeply honoured to have been asked to sit and to have sat here in the Senate for almost 19 years.
Throughout my Senate career I have sat on many committees, and I learned much about various aspects of governing in this country.
I initially sat on the Agriculture and Forestry Committee, which was supposed to be temporary. Well, when I leave this place, I will have served there for the entire time, including as deputy chair for a time. For a city boy like me, it was an eye-opener. I have a great deal of respect for all the people who are in the industry. Canadian farmers and all the people who support them are bringing Canadian products to the world. I hope we continue to sell ourselves to the world with the amazing products we produce.
I also enjoyed my time on the Transport Committee with Senator Dawson, the Special Senate Committee on Aging and the Library of Parliament Committee.
Don’t ever forget about the Library of Parliament Committee. During one term, a certain government didn’t want the Parliamentary Budget Officer to report, and he reported through the Library of Parliament Committee. They’ve changed that legislation now, and he reports. I kept trying to get him to come as a witness, and I would go to the meetings all set to the move the motion and, as soon as the chair was elected, someone would move the adjournment of the meeting and I’d never get it done.
Then I went on to become chair of the Selection Committee at one time. While I was a bit reluctant to take on that role, senators like Senator Plett put their faith in me, and I thank them for that now. I wasn’t very thankful at the time.
It is in the work of our committees where we senators shine, but we only can do that with the help and support of staff who make our work possible. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many clerks over the years, and I thank them all. I did work with some for a long time, and I would like to thank specifically Jessica Richardson, Adam Thompson, Keli Hogan, Kevin Pittman and Shaila Anwar for your support of our work and the work of the Senate over my tenure.
Committee travel is so essential to get out and meet Canadians. Take the Senate on the road again as soon as you possibly can. The people and staff are always on hand to make sure those trips are successful.
One of the greatest achievements I have ever accomplished will forever be the Senate Special Committee on the Charitable Sector. It took several years and lots of convincing, but we made it happen. The result was a report that I believe will help the sector continue to grow and flourish, because we need it. I would like to thank Senator Omidvar and Senator Martin for their support and diligence in making the report a reality, and our researchers Havi Echenberg and Nicole Sweeney, and Annie Trudel and our staff.
Every day, the lives of Canadians from coast to coast to coast are touched by the sector and its volunteers. I would like you to join me in thanking the millions of volunteers who make a difference in their communities. Thank you.
I was also especially proud to be able to have legislation passed to officially recognize National Philanthropy Day — the first of its kind in the world, by the way. We were the first country ever to do that.
According to Imagine Canada, the charitable and non-profit sectors contribute $192 billion in economic activity to Canada annually, which accounts for about 8% of our country’s GDP. The sector employs 2.4 million people, which is more than the mining, oil and gas sector, or agriculture, transportation and retail. Think about that. That’s why philanthropy is important, and that’s why we should recognize it and the volunteers who serve it.
Another way to provide service to our country is through blood donation. National Blood Donor Week is legislation that I sponsored and, with the help of all parties, we passed it to recognize and celebrate volunteer blood donations across Canada. It happens every June.
These donors give the gift of life — the ultimate gift of all — and I thank all of the donors who have and will continue to give that precious gift. My father was a blood donor all his life.
Honourable senators, throughout my years here, I have had the opportunity to celebrate many occasions. Famously, former Senator Munson and I were asked by former senator Landon Pearson to take over National Child Day, which she had started. By the way, I can hear and see all the women in the room saying, “Yes, that’s right, they had to get two men to do the job of one woman.” We got the message right from the start, Senator Munson and I. We had a good time.
Every November, we would have National Child Day. We would invite hundreds of young people into the chamber, and we would have performances on the floor of the chamber. Sometimes we didn’t necessarily tell the Speaker all of what was going to happen. To give you an idea, the famous Canadian group Barenaked Ladies performed in the Senate of Canada in front of the Speaker’s chair and did a couple of numbers. The kids went wild, of course. I’m not sure the Speaker of the day was as happy to hear them. But anyway, it was a lot of fun.
I thank Senator Landon Pearson for encouraging Senator Munson and me to do that. And it wasn’t just Senator Munson and I that did it. We had help from former Senator Cochrane and current Senators Martin and Gagné to make it happen. I thank them for their support.
Former Senator Rompkey also started me on a push to host Navy Day on the Hill. From its humble beginnings — I’ll tell you how humble it was. We said we were going to have this day to celebrate the Canadian Navy and the Coast Guard. We had no budget, but we knew we wanted to have a party. So a bunch of volunteers and staff went out to the local brewery and made beer. They also went to a local winery, and they made wine. So we have a party on the Hill to celebrate the Royal Canadian Navy and the Coast Guard with wine and beer made by volunteers, which we found some money to pay for.
The party was a huge success. It is now considered one of the premier social functions on Parliament Hill — when we can get back to having those types of functions on the Hill. I would encourage that when we can, we get back to doing it. You will be amazed at the turnout that will show up for Navy Day on the Hill. It is really absolutely terrific, and as the son of Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Bob Mercer and the father of Lieutenant Michael Mercer, who is up in the gallery, I would hope that you would support the reinstatement of Navy Day on the Hill. One of my many volunteers from my office and friend Jerrod Riley was instrumental in planning the further development of this event. I thank him and the many other volunteers who made it all happen.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the work I also did with CASA, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, supporting university students in their endeavours, and with SOCAN, supporting Canadian artists who provide so much to the culture and diversity of our country. Thank you to them.
Honourable senators, we would not be able to do our jobs if it were not for our staff and volunteers. I have had the pleasure of working with many summer students, and when we get back to normal — whatever normal is anymore — I encourage you to hire some summer students. I have had Katherine Donovan from New Brunswick, Michael Power from Ottawa, Julianna Kelly from Manotick, Nat Atherton from Ottawa, Jennifer Johns from Ottawa, Jessica Burkhardt from Ottawa and Michel Naubert from Gatineau.
I know the experience they gained working in the Senate has been invaluable to them. It certainly was to me, and I would like to thank them on the record today.
The many other staff that we have had in our Senate office over the years have been the best I have ever worked with, including some who have been with me my entire tenure. I would like to thank Lisa Thibedeau, Melanie Nicholson, Heather Forsyth and Caitlin Gropp for your support, especially as we navigated our way through the creation of the Progressive Senate Group.
I would also like to thank Archie Campbell and Dave Murphy who were also on hand to help with the annual Senator Mercer tree-trimming party. When I came back a couple of weeks ago and was looking towards the end, I said I wanted to do something special to be remembered by. I almost did it, but I pulled back because I knew I would get in a lot of trouble. I was going to have my tree-trimming party last week. Well, my tree-trimming party usually involved the traipsing of 100 or so people through the third floor of the East Block in front of my office, and we had live music, which we didn’t pay for — it was volunteers. We had volunteer bartenders. Then we had all kinds of great food, mainly supplied by my staff. I’ll talk about them in a minute.
To all the staff at the Progressive Senate Group, thank you for all you do for your senators. Keep up the good work and make sure they have a little fun, too.
The Parliamentary Protective Service, maintenance services, client services, ISD, property service, committee attendants, multimedia services — including Pedro Peres — the interpreters and all the support staff throughout the entire Senate: Thank you for your service. You were the ones who helped keep this train on the tracks. Thank you also to the Parliamentary Associations and groups and all the staff we have to help promote Canada to the world.
There are two people who were indeed with me for my entire Senate journey and whom I cannot thank enough: Sherry Petten and David Sheppard. Sherry had terrific experience and had worked in the deputy prime minister’s office when Herb Gray was deputy prime minister. She then worked for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Sharon Carstairs. She was in Sharon’s office when I was appointed. I was lucky enough to get her out of Sharon’s office and get her to come work for me. We had a deal, though. Sherry is almost exactly 10 years younger than I am. That was the deal. She would turn 65, and I would turn 75. This was great; we would leave together.
But Sherry decided that she would leave a few years ago and is having a great retirement. I continue to think that Sherry’s job was to keep me out of jail and out of trouble. Well, I have never been in jail, so that part worked, and the trouble that I’ve gotten into has been stuff that I have done on my own. Sherry would try to talk me out of it sometimes.
David Sheppard, on the other hand, I have known for a long time. He was a Young Liberal in Nova Scotia. When I was appointed, David was working for the party in Nova Scotia. I enticed him to move from Nova Scotia to Ottawa. It has been a wonderful partnership between David, Sherry and me. I would suggest that I have been blessed with the best staff in the Senate office for years, and I have been successful because of their support.
Now, I did want to stop and tell you a story. Senator Plett was very kind in his remarks and talked about how friendly we have become. I consider Senator Plett one of my closest friends in the Senate.
The Agriculture and Forestry Committee was on a tour. We ended up in northern New Brunswick with Senator Mockler. By the way, Senator Mockler doesn’t know that he doesn’t have to get elected because anywhere you went in northern New Brunswick with Senator Mockler, he was shaking hands. I’ve been on a lot of campaigns, and Percy kept shaking hands with everybody that was there.
Anyway, so we’re in Saint-Léonard, I believe, and we stopped. Senator Plett and I were on the committee. We were relatively new. I was a little more experienced on the committee than Senator Plett, because he had just recently been appointed. So we went out to dinner as committees do. At the end of the night, we had sat down to have a glass of wine, and everybody else went to bed. There we were: Senator Plett and I sat there stuck with only each other to talk to.
So we had another glass of wine, maybe two glasses of wine, and we discovered something. When we weren’t being partisan about the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party, we actually liked each other, and we built on that relationship. It has helped sometimes in this chamber — not all the time — but Don and I have a relationship where I know I can always go talk to him and he knows he can always come and talk to me. Sometimes it has been helpful; not all the time because sometimes things get in the way. He is a stubborn guy.
However, our small but mighty caucus is making the Senate a better place, I think. The Progressive Senate Group is made up of senators with different backgrounds, shared values and at times differing opinions. We all bring something to the table, and I look forward to watching the group grow and continue to improve.
I just realized that I forgot to finish my Don Plett story.
The Transport Committee was on another trip. Don was on that, along with Dennis. We went to Estonia for part of our study, and then we went to Brussels for the second part. It happened to be in November, and Wednesday of that week was November 11, so I went to the clerk of the committee and said, “Well, we’re not working on Wednesday.” He said, “Well, why?” I said, “It’s Remembrance Day. You have to find a place for us to commemorate Remembrance Day.”
They organized it with the embassy in Brussels, and we went to Ypres where the Menin Gate is. It’s only a few miles from Passchendaele. The part about Plett was later on when we went back to Brussels. We’re out at night and suddenly these guys — Dawson and Plett — decided that they wanted to go shopping. Not far from the hotel was a shop that only sold ties. There were long ties and there were bow ties.
Senator Dawson: He still has it.
Senator Mercer: At the end of the evening when we left the tie shop, Don had 15, 20 ties — I can’t recall, but there were a lot of ties — and Dennis bought a few bow ties. I was just so amazed; I didn’t buy anything. Number one, these guys were buying high-end ties, not like me. Although this tie today, for those of you who are tartan lovers, is a Cooper tartan. My mother’s maiden name was Cooper, and on any special occasion in this place I wear it in honour of my mother.
Anyway, that was Plett and Dawson shopping for ties. A couple of weeks later I asked Don, “What did your wife think of all the ties?” He said, “She didn’t say anything about the ties, but she did ask about the big charge on the Visa card.”
Anyway, thank you all again. I would like to thank my caucus colleagues, Margaret Dawn, Diane, Wanda, Pat, Jane, Dennis, Pierre, Brian, Amina, Clément, Peter, Marty and Sandra. I will miss our weekly chats and sometimes weekly debates.
Finally, some parting advice for all of you. Please remember that you are all politicians. That’s it. So many of you came here saying you never wanted to be one, but you’re all politicians. It could be a big “P” or could be a small “P,” but you’re all politicians and don’t forget it. That’s not a bad thing. The work of a senator is demanding and extremely satisfying, especially when we work together with like-minded colleagues in caucuses or groups, but especially with each other. I mentioned before the work of the committees when we travelled, and I already told you the story about Mockler campaigning in northern New Brunswick and Don Plett and me meeting in the bar.
In any event, build friendships. Go meet with people. This is the problem with the pandemic. We don’t have any social events these days when we get together. When they come back, go to these things. Meet your colleagues; make sure you meet someone on the other side or in a group you have no affiliation with. Guess what? You will build those relationships, and those relationships will make committees work better, make this place work better and will make the legislation better. That will serve Canadians better, and it will only happen if you do it together.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Senator Mercer: Get to know your colleagues on both sides. You will all be better off.
In this chamber we can debate and argue, disagree and agree. But out there, outside, remember that we are all people who can celebrate friendships, regardless of where we are on the political spectrum. The grand experiment of the Prime Minister is still just that: an experiment.
What will happen in the future? It’s up to us — really to you now — how to navigate it and what changes to keep. What the Senate will look like in the future is up to you. Please do not forget the past, and please do not think that the past was so horrible, because you may end up going back to it.
My prediction has always been that eventually this place will evolve back to where it was. There will be a group sitting over there as the opposition and there will be a group sitting over here as the government, and I would suggest there will be several other groups like we have now. But I think that’s how the place will evolve. You’ll all figure that out on your own. I won’t be here to guide you, although I would be happy to give you advice.
Honourable senators, I would like to thank all of my family and friends, too many to mention, who have been extremely supportive through the good times and the bad.
My cousin John is in the gallery with his wife, Neena. Without them, Ellen and I would not have been able to transition to Ottawa when we first moved here, and we thank them for that. It made our lives so much easier.
To my wife Ellen, whom I recently celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary with, words are not enough. I wouldn’t be here today without you. You are my rock.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Senator Mercer: To my son, Michael, and my daughter-in-law, Lisa, who is at home with the grandchildren, I look forward to spending more time with you and our two wonderful grandchildren, Ellie and Oliver. Thank you for enriching our lives.
Honourable senators, that finishes the first half of my speech. I actually thought, before I came in to give this speech today, that I would come in with a much thicker pile of paper just to show Senator Plett that I could speak for an hour and a half too.
Honourable senators, thank you for your kind words. Thank you for your support, and please continue your good work. Canada needs you. Thank you.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.