Hon. Jim Munson: Your Honour, I know we’re not allowed to use props in the Senate, but I’m going to sleep well tonight. Senator Cotter and everybody, this is the pillow that Senator Cotter mentioned earlier. What a touching statement you made on behalf of your daughter. We’ll all sleep well tonight with these pillows.
It’s also wonderful, by the way, to receive tributes when you’re alive. Just to hear them is amazing. I’m deeply touched. I am always fond of the saying, “Seek the wisdom of the ages, but look at the world through the eyes of a child.”
On February 2, 2004, Senator Landon Pearson, as tradition dictates — and you know what this is like — tugged my arm, pulled me into the Senate chamber and introduced me as the “newbie” senator. From that moment, Landon was my guiding light, placing the rights of the child as a thread that would tie together my work here. I will come back to Senator Pearson a little later.
Today, I speak to you as the child who grew up to be a senator. I hope to tell a story that reflects my own journey — the people who helped me along the way and the influence they had on me.
Senators, you are an important part of this story, because it is here in the Senate of Canada where I discovered inspired thinkers and leaders, made new friendships, found mentors and a passion for helping others. It’s here in the Senate where I have found the real meaning of public service, an institution where every one of you has brought your experience of life to help build a better Canada. I mean that deeply and sincerely.
Honourable senators, what we do here matters. It matters because we use our time to improve legislation. It matters because we can use our time in committees to focus on the critical issues of the day: study them and analyze them with a collective lens of expert advice and experience. It matters because we work in collaboration. It matters because we have the time to do it.
I’ve always been a man in a hurry. What I’ve discovered in this chamber is that here you can actually slow down, really learn how to listen to others, seize the essence of an issue and then run with it.
But, like all of you, I had a life before the Senate. I came to the Senate with previous life experience and what it taught me. As a foreign correspondent for CTV National News network, I witnessed the worst of humanity and the best of humanity. I saw love and I saw hate. It is the best of humanity that inspires me, and sometimes the worst of humanity that has moved me to action.
As a child growing up in northern New Brunswick in the 1950s, I fed my imagination and curiosity. I wondered: What was the world like beyond the borders of my hometown of Campbellton? I was adventurous and mischievous. I loved hockey and I was a proud rink rat. Listening to the radio and reading newspapers were my own sources of knowledge and dreams. We did not have a television set. In fact, there were very few television sets in my town. But we had teachers who brought to life the world outside my small town and satisfied a young child’s curiosity about Canada and the world beyond.
A Grade 7 supply teacher spent the entire year telling us about China. She had lived there for a year. Little did I know that 30 years later I would be living in Beijing, discovering every corner of a country that had captured my imagination as a 12-year-old.
My other discovery of the world stood at my doorstep on the platform of the Campbellton train station when the afternoon train would pull in. I really feel I’m going to be 75 now. As I peered through the mist from the steam engine, there would be the bundle of newspapers — my bundle. Before delivering them on my paper route, I devoured every word of the Saint John Telegraph. My customers might sometimes have been annoyed with the late delivery, but my curiosity of the great big world was satisfied for that day.
A train station in those days was the entry and departure point to the world. It brought awareness. This one time, it was about politics. Imagine being a 12-year-old boy with your dad in 1958 — an election year — bundled up in winter clothing and waiting for the campaign trains to arrive. Imagine the scene: the steam engine, the political bunting of party colours draped over the last car. And who would emerge, but John Diefenbaker. I tried to shake his hand. I really tried to shake his hand after his speech. Perhaps because of what has been said of my stature, he didn’t notice me and he didn’t shake my hand. My father tried to console me. But a few days later — and I hate to say this, Senator Plett — there was a similar scenario with Lester Pearson. After his stump speech, I stuck out my hand. This time, the politician shook it. I have been told I’ve been a Liberal ever since.
Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh!
Senator Munson: Politics crept into my life and captured, again, my curiosity and imagination. Here I was now 19 years of age and, as has been said, a radio announcer in the classic 250-watt radio station in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Once again, John Diefenbaker played a role in my dream of one day — maybe one day — working on Parliament Hill as one of those national reporters. This was a by-election. The year was 1965, and Diefenbaker was in town to help the local candidate — I never forgot his name — John O. Bower. He won. There, outside the radio station, were the scribes wearing their turned-up trench coats, smoking their cigarettes and waiting for the chief to arrive. I wondered, “Maybe if I did a good interview, somebody would notice and I would punch my ticket to Parliament Hill.”
That wasn’t going to happen — at least not that day or not right away.
I began my interview by welcoming Mr. Diefenbaker to Yarmouth. I ended the interview by thanking him. In the course of 30 minutes, I hadn’t asked one question. Call it what you want — stage fright — but it was the best interview I ever did. My listeners had a giggle, and I learned about humility.
By the way, my vocabulary and understanding of politics and the economy were limited in those days. My interest was more focused on having enough money from my weekly paycheque of $36 to buy a few beers on a Friday night.
One day, when reading the noon-hour newscast, I stumbled upon a word I had never seen before. Remember, this was 1965. I said, “Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson stated today that Canadians might have to tighten their belts as we could all be suffering from serious in-fa-la-tion.” Not “inflation,” but “in-fa-la-tion.” I thought it was a stomach disorder. I didn’t have a clue what I was saying — and that would sometimes happen later on in life. This time, the listeners had a good laugh, and I learned about humility one more time.
Along this radio road, I found wonderful friends and mentors. I found welcoming communities. I found acts of kindness. Along this road, there were expressions of love. Along this road, I met the love of my life, Ginette.
Along this road, there was the loss of a child and the birth of two more sons. Life seemed cruel in the 1960s when we lost Timothy James Alexander Munson at the age of nine months. As has been said, he was a Down syndrome baby who struggled with pneumonia. His short life became my inspiration and the expression of everything I’ve done for the rights of the child, of children with disabilities, of those who live in the special and unique world of autism and, of course, those who thrive in the organization that has been the centrepiece of my Senate life, Special Olympics.
For 17 years, I have often shared the road with Special Olympics athletes. It didn’t matter whether it was nearby Navan, Ontario, or Nagano, Japan. Every time I was hugged by an athlete was an embrace of love, living the moment and living with the motto of Special Olympics: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave at the attempt.”
In the inclusive world of Special Olympics, this is what is called winning at life.
Honourable senators, I know every one of you has a story to share. Your life experiences continue to guide me as I share my personal story and the autism story. You, Senator Wanda Bernard, and your grandson; you, Senator Peter Boehm, and your son; you, Senator Cotter, and your daughter; and you, Senator Leo Housakos, and your work with Giant Steps in Montreal — you are my guides. And I am thinking of all of you who have a relative or a neighbour down the street with autism. I am thinking of the kind acts that happen every day in the autism community.
This journey has connected me with you and practically every autism organization in the country, particularly CASDA, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance, and QuickStart Autism here in Ottawa. Thank you. Every year, we took the Hill by storm, and we brought our message to the Hill. I think politicians finally listened.
Because of our collective will, we are on the verge of implementing this national autism strategy. It is in the hands of government now. And the report that has been talked about, which I am proud of and in which I am proud to have played a role — Pay now or pay later: autism families in crisis — has served as a template for the autism community. We have a foundation to build upon.
Human rights and inclusion in our society are powerful ideas that drive change, transformation and action. That’s why I am proud of my private member’s bill that became law a number of years ago. Recognizing World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 has not only given a profile to the autism community; I believe it has helped create an inclusive place for those who have autism.
To you, the friends in the CASDA community; the other autism organizations, autism and family advocates; you have been the driving force bringing vision, knowledge, expertise and wisdom to realize the achievements we have reached together. I thank you humbly.
Inclusion leads to productive lives for all Canadians. We can never forget that 6.2 million Canadians have one or more disabilities. That is 22% of our population; one in five Canadians lives with a disability.
I think one of my proudest moments in the Senate of Canada was to help shepherd the Accessible Canada Act through the Senate and into law. Remember, senators, we made amendments. We made a good bill a better law.
Of course, there is more work to be done. But as I said at the beginning of my speech, you have the knowledge, the wisdom, the experience and the time to make this a more inclusive country, a country where people who live with differences can participate fully as members of our society.
In my life as a reporter, I have witnessed and reported on the good, the bad and the ugly. Through most of it, it filled me with energy. Sometimes, I was afraid. Most of the time, I was aware of history being made. What astounded me was the survival and the strength of the human spirit, whether it was in Belfast, Beirut or Beijing; whether it was the killing of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte during the FLQ crisis; whether it was the assassination of Indira Gandhi; whether it was the first Gulf War or the Iran-Iraq War; whether it was covering the numerous bruising election campaigns; it was a privileged window on the world for me.
The questions that always surfaced for me were about the people: How are these events affecting the lives of ordinary people? I would ask myself that every day as I prepared a news story. During those 35 years, working with true professionals in radio and at CTV, I learned how to work hard and I learned the true skills of being a reporter.
I want to acknowledge an old friend, Sidney Margles from Montreal. Early on in radio in Montreal, he and I worked together at Standard Broadcast News here in Ottawa. He showed me the first steps — getting a little tougher, getting a little edgier and making a deadline. You can’t miss a deadline. The news doesn’t come on at 11:05; it comes on at 11.
Among the news professionals who deeply influenced me, I want to recognize Tim Kotcheff, Lloyd Robertson, Craig Oliver and so many others. And you, Pamela, as well as Senator Duffy. It is so important to recognize others. Thank you for the work you have done in the journalism world.
You know who you are. I can’t name everybody. I want to thank the hardworking producers and crews in the bureaus and main newsrooms in Toronto. I particularly want to thank John Konig, François Bisson and Mike Nolan, the producer/cameramen who were my eyes on the road. You helped me write the stories and show them. You have shaped me.
There is a special person in my life, Roger Smith, my old CTV colleague. Thank you, Roger, for always being in my corner in life and on the hockey rink.
During my five years living and reporting in China, our family could not have survived without the guidance and support of our interpreter there, Zhao Feng Yu, now Frank Zhao, who is now a Canadian and doing quite well. I really appreciate Mr. Zhao. As he said to me when I got to China — because he had other reporters who showed up: Dennis Mcintosh, Tom Clark, Roger and others were there. When I showed up at the airport with Ginette, he looked at me and I looked at him. He said: “Finally, a reporter I can talk to, vis-à-vis.” He meant we were the same height. He was so happy to meet me.
Speaking of Canadians and wonderful people with whom I have shared the deepest lifelong friendships, I want to acknowledge Don Connolly, Kevin Ryan, Ron MacIsaac, Steven Boyd and the forever-missed Robert McKelvie; friends from Nova Scotia and the Maritimes, and lifelong friends who supported me and lived with me on so many life adventures.
In the 1970s, the early 1980s and later in the late 1990s, along with my colleagues in the national press gallery on Parliament Hill — there were not long Friday lunches, by the way, but there were long Friday evenings — away from the press club, I practised being a corridor commando, chasing and cornering politicians into giving an insightful quote and clip. I learned history on the run, to borrow the title of a National Film Board documentary by Peter Raymont on the election of 1979, and on the dynamic among four reporters, including yours truly, and Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Joe Clark. That is known as learning on the job. Many colourful stories were created there. Maybe one day they will be in a book.
Later, as a foreign correspondent, deadlines and dealing with death were tough enough, but the question always remained: What happens the next day for those who are not in the headlines? This is but one story that had more meaning for me than all the others.
Let me take you to Phnom Penh in Cambodia in the early 1990s, into the back alleys of this tortured city, to see the faces of humanity and their will to survive. Orphaned babies, many with recognizable disabilities, had been thrown into trash cans. A Canadian woman by the name of Naomi Bronstein, from Montreal, was operating a home for orphans in the heart of that beleaguered city. She was saving lives. I told her story on TV and the story of the babies. Who would adopt them? Would they live long enough to be adopted? Does anybody care? It is the one story that has affected and influenced me forever. My thought was that if I were ever, later in life, to be in the position of doing more than just telling a story, then for the love of a child, I would do something.
After eight years abroad, my CTV road had taken a new turn, back in Canada. First in Halifax working with my team, Gord Danielson and Charlie MacDonald, and then back to Ottawa. I was still grinding away at the next story on Parliament Hill. Little did I know that I would find myself facing the prospect of a new life beyond reporting. The news business, being what it is, can be cruel sometimes. In 2001, I was out of a job. At 55, what could possibly be next?
I will never forget the call from the prime minister who changed my life. Early on, as I mentioned, there was John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson. And before going overseas, there was Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, whose election campaigns and governments I covered as a newsperson. I loved politics — not that I wanted to be one of them, but I was always fascinated by the role politicians and political parties play in our lives. I loved the stories, and I loved telling them in my journalism.
On a particular morning, the call came from the Prime Minister’s Office. I will never forget his voice — “Jimmy!” Sometimes, he said to me, you were a so-and-so, and sometimes you were a good guy, but I like you. Would you come and work for me? I hesitated. I was out of work at 55. Why would I go to work, as we call it in journalistic circles, “working on the dark side.” If it had not been for the wisdom of my wife, I may have been unemployed for a long time.
Now came the enlightenment. Working for then-prime minister Jean Chrétien has been the greatest privilege of my life. He gave me back a life that I thought I had lost. He gave me purpose, and for almost two years, I walked into a world where decisions were being made that mattered to all Canadians and many other people in other countries. I was in the room when the decision was made not to go to war in Iraq. Jean Chrétien was a man of decision; humble, highly intelligent, proud and fierce. He is one of the great prime ministers this country has had. Mr. Chrétien has served his country well, and I was honoured to be in his service along with the incredible team of people who ran the Prime Minister’s Office. Most have remained close friends since. You know who you are, and I thank you for your friendship. Specifically, I want to acknowledge my three amigos, Bruce Hartley, Stephen Hogue, and Paul Genest.
Back to the Senate. You never know in life where the road will take you next. Being appointed to the Senate has given me a public voice I never thought I would ever have. Honourable senators, do you remember the day you walked into the Senate? A sense of excitement, expectation and, yes, trepidation? You are surrounded by your kind and loving family. Recognizing tradition, you are escorted into the Senate by a veteran senator, one that you have respected or seen over the years. Looking around you, you wonder — and I still wonder — how did I get here? As I told you earlier, former senator Landon Pearson was the one who clutched my arm as I walked into the Senate. Simply put, she was my hero, a fighter for children’s rights. She was smart, she was warm, she was kind, and she symbolized to me what a person could do in this place. As an advocate for the rights of the child well before coming to the Senate, she didn’t waste any time here in promoting the rights of the child under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I thought again of children I grew up with, those who lived in poverty. I thought of the orphaned babies in Cambodia. I thought of a baby son who died so long ago. And I thought, what could I do to try to make a little difference in the lives of children?
We carried on, as has been said, with Landon’s celebration of children each year with National Child Day. Imagine the old Senate chamber; we would pack the place with the voices of children on November 20 every year. It was their voices, their advocacy and their opportunity to show us the way. The way Landon put it, every child is a new chance for the whole human race. My hope today, as I leave, is that one of you — or one of you from each group or caucus — gets together and revives that celebration and the recognition of the child. But there is still unfinished business here.
First, working with the incomparable former senator Raynell Andreychuk, the report Children: The Silenced Citizens and the call for a national children’s commissioner. Today, with the work of Senator Rosemary Moodie, I hope, senators, that the call will be answered. I hope that the government will really listen. We’ve been saying it over and over again: This country needs a national children’s commissioner.
I will continue to look at the world through the eyes of a child. If Landon Pearson, through her Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights at Carleton University, can continue to do so at the age of 90, why shouldn’t I? All it takes is a little time.
It reminds me of a story being with Mr. Chrétien back in northern New Brunswick after an event in Bathurst, New Brunswick. We were on a country road heading to the airport. He said to stop the car; he wanted to see the people who were standing by a fence. It was a fiercely cold northern New Brunswick day, and he was insistent on getting out. I was cold, I wanted to stay in the car, but he was with them for about 25 minutes. There were no cameras. I said to him, Mr. Chrétien, that was a nice thing that you just did. It was a kind thing that you did. And he looked at me and he said, what did it take, Jimmy? He said: “It took time.” I kept that in my heart. All it takes is a little time, to stop, listen and to pay attention to others. It is advice that I have embraced.
I learned so much in the Senate, but now I need to be blunt. Despite all my advantages to learn about the world and my country, despite all the opportunity to show more curiosity and interest in our First Nations and their communities, I have never paid enough attention. Imagine being a reporter full of curiosity and questions, and I never paid enough attention.
I covered a major news story in the mid 1990s in Davis Inlet in Labrador. Innu children had become addicted to sniffing gas in Davis Inlet. I was full of empathy. I wrote a number of news stories, but I never really understood the story behind the story — the story of systemic racism and a system that stole the lives of families, communities and Indigenous children. I did not know my history.
It wasn’t until 2004, when I first entered the Senate, that I began to truly listen. I met former senators Charlie Watt and Willie Adams, and Senator Lovelace Nicholas. I became a member of the Aboriginal Committee. Lillian Dyck — my goodness, I miss her — sat here as a mentor and an adviser. I gained a better understanding of Indigenous issues.
Knowledge is the key to understanding. With the help of Lillian and other Indigenous senators, I have come to understand the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples and the real history of this country. I hope the Indigenous senators in this room can forgive me for not knowing better at an earlier age.
But you are never too old to learn, are you? I am grateful that my teachers have been other senators, and now we are all in a state of shock — I’m going to have a hard time getting through this. I thought I would get through this easily but it is difficult. It is so difficult — we are shocked at the discovery of the graves of the 215 children of the Kamloops residential school.
The Indigenous children of Kamloops are revealing the truth. Their spirits are alive, though, and they are talking to us. Canada is in shock. People’s awareness of the unfair treatment of First Nations is finally reaching every corner of this country. Everybody is talking of our history with sorrow and anger.
I believe reconciliation is the responsibility of each and every Canadian, each and every one of us. We need to relearn our history. We need to learn that history.
One of the important and eminent teachers we’ve had here in the Senate was former senator Murray Sinclair, the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission contain an invitation to all of us to act. In presenting the findings of the commission, Senator Sinclair’s words were:
. . .we have described for you a mountain. We have shown you a path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.
Honourable senators, how can there be reconciliation when so many of us still know so little about First Nations history?
Recently, Quebec First Nations in Canada lost a wise sage and formidable communicator, Serge Bouchard, an anthropologist and writer. This wouldn’t be well-known to English-speaking Canada, but if you want to see the translations and watch the documentaries, search the name Serge Bouchard and listen to his words. For 30 years, he broadcast his knowledge of the North, of First Nations and of life in general on Sunday evenings on Radio-Canada. He was a great friend of Indigenous people and had a huge following. His lesson for us was to be curious, to listen, and to treat each person like the unique individual he or she truly is — to be kind and respectful. He was a transmitter of history and memory. His published work is a good place to start relearning our history.
I asked the question: How can there be reconciliation when we know practically nothing about First Nations history? Is it too much to ask ourselves individually and as a nation to answer the Call to Action 62, and change the way we understand our relationship with First Nations?
To the Muslim community of Canada regarding the unspeakable tragedy in London, Ontario — I hurt with you. We in the Senate hurt with you.
I want to say this personally to my dear colleague Senator Salma Ataullahjan. Salma, you have been such a dear friend. Remember this one thing: You will never walk alone in our grief. We will lift you up to walk again. Love always has the upper hand over hate.
There are so many people to thank. In my office alone over the last 17 and a half years, I’ve had a number of trusting and loving advisers. For example, Alex Asselin, Amélie Crosson, Andrée Chenard, Marie Russell, Elizabeth Laforest and Christian Dicks, who showed such commitment. Still with me are the two angels — one who is sitting here — who guide me, watch over me and keep me calm — if that’s possible — and organized: Lisa Thibedeau and Lillian Kruzsely.
My dear Lisa, who will soon have a baby, has been with me most of my time in the Senate. Imagine a new little person on the planet. I repeat what former senator Landon Pearson said: Every child is a new chance for the whole human race. Lisa, I wish you and Chris the greatest happiness. There is nothing more in the world than the love of a child.
Lillian, you are the most talented person, ready the role of sending me out into the world again after wrapping everything up in the office. We have two months, but we might need an extension.
Thank you to Lisa and Lillian for having accompanied me through these very demanding and busy times remotely. I don’t know how I will function without you.
I can’t forget all those interns who spent summers with us. To all those interns, now well on their way to new careers, I hope that your stay with us added a little value to your life. I know that your assignment with us gave you a taste of the political landscape and a special dimension on what it means to be a Canadian citizen.
Then there’s Michael Trinque. You have all met Michael somewhere in the corridors of the Senate. As you know, Michael has Down’s syndrome. He has been working as part of our office team for 12 years. Michael has brought to the office the face of affection, dedication and the understanding that we are, as the saying goes, all in this together. Together means inclusion. As Senator Cordy has said, Michael won’t be out of work. He will join Senator Coyle’s team.
Senator Coyle, I hope that by your example, more senators will create a space for those who have the ability — not the disability but the ability — to bring added value to everything that we do.
Speaking of value, senators, there has been nothing greater than the new friendships I have made in the Senate. I’m particularly grateful for the circles of friendships: the committee friendships, the caucus friendships and simply friendships. I look at Senator Martin’s face, and all I see is a friend. You have all enriched my life. You have made it fun.
Thank you Terry Mercer for being you. We arrived in the Senate on the same day. I guess you can call us Senate seatmates for life. Of course, in our feisty little group led by Jane Cordy, it has been an interesting experience. We will see where new experiences take senators in the future.
I owe so much gratitude to the people in the Senate Administration. You have been faithful, dedicated public servants, committed to making the Senate function well. I have been witness to your professionalism and dedication. From a friendly good morning to an informal conversation to expert advice, you’ve shown me the greatest support. You showed by example, each and every day, the true meaning of public service.
Speaker Furey, you are a gentle, considerate speaker and a wise leader. You are the face of the modern Senate, guiding this institution through its evolution. I value our friendship. You have guided us all with respect, grace and dignity.
I want the pages to know that I have loved hearing your stories, your dreams and your aspirations. Thank you for your assistance. Always be curious about what’s down the road.
Stop for the security outside and the drivers of the small buses — we see them every day, and I know you do from time to time — and listen to their stories. It is important. They have done a tremendous job in protecting us and keeping us on the move.
Speaking of what’s next down the road, I’m pleased to tell you there is a future after 75. On July 15, the day after my mandatory retirement date, I’m taking up a position as Executive-in-Residence at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria. I asked them if they could change “executive” to “sage,” but they wouldn’t do that. I’ll also be a special adviser to the Victoria Forum. It’s a part-time gig, as they say.
I know you’re aware of the Victoria Forum because many senators have been involved in it, in the past plenaries and webinars. The next forum is April 20 to 22 of next year. The theme, Turf, Truth and Trust, brings together policy-makers, business leaders, academics, youth and leaders of civil society. We’ll discuss all kinds of gaps and divisions in our society, from identity to territory, religion, race, economic status, culture and politics, culminating in policy recommendations for political leaders.
I’m very grateful. I know that his dad has passed away and he can’t be here today, but Senator Peter Boehm will be acting as a liaison between the forum and the Senate. So I’m not totally gone, Your Honour, because I’ll be working with you and with Peter, and continuing this partnership with the Victoria Forum.
Honourable senators, people say to me, “You’ve lived so many adventures and met so many important people in your life, people like Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, but it seems people who are closest to you, your family, your community, your workplace, that’s the real difference in life.” It is within your family that you begin to reflect the values that will carry you throughout your life.
My father Eddie, or Ed or J.E., the United Church minister, was the spiritual leader in the congregations he served. He accompanied the members of his congregations through the cycle of their life, from baptizing babies to marrying young couples to comforting those who were ill in hospital, and finally to offer comfort to families at funerals. He was a deeply empathetic man, shaped by the severe hardships of his youth growing up in the small village of Alma, New Brunswick. You learn those values.
Before I talk about my mother, I have a little secret I have to get out of the way before I end. In my father’s congregation, because I was quite rebellious and questioned and challenged a lot, I remember a member of my father’s congregation saying, “You’ll never fill your father’s shoes.” Well, senators, it was said a moment ago I may never have filled my father’s shoes, but today I am wearing my father’s shoes and they seem to fit. They have anchored me.
My mother Dora, well, she was tiny — no surprise. She was determined, she was tough in a gentle way and she was feisty. She loved people and connected to everyone, and everyone loved her.
My brother David, my sister Mary and I were like the proverbial preacher’s kids and had to develop a deep resilience to always living in a glass bowl. Together the three of us carry on the values of love and family bonds. We are a close family. To put it simply, we love each other. Both our parents would be proud of the four grandchildren and the two great-grandchildren, so far.
My family includes Ginette’s sisters, Françoise and Denise, and my brother-in-law, André, of the large Aubut clan; talking about the Republic of Madawaska — they say “république” — that’s in New Brunswick, it’s still part of Canada, but they’re from there and they’ve been an important part of my life.
I don’t know what to say because I may not be able to finish the last four pages. I’m almost done. But Ginette, of course, has been the love of my life, along with the two boys here. He’s known as James but we know him as Jamie, and Claude Mathieu, known as Claude. We’re so fortunate to receive the gifts of a child, two children, later on in life after losing Timmy. To you, Ginette and to the boys, I can’t say anything more than I love you so much. You have kept me together. You’ve understood my weird sense of humour. But if there’s anything that is caring about life, it’s about family. I’d like to tell all the senators that each and every day when you go home, hug your children; and a big loving hug to you, Ginette.
I feel enormous gratitude for the platform the Senate has given me to help build awareness of what makes a difference in the lives of people, awareness around intellectual disabilities, the power of Special Olympics, around families who live with autism, awareness of the power of advocacy; it goes on and on.
One of the last great privileges I’ve had in the Senate is to have sponsored the Kindness Week bill last month, inspired and moved to action by Rabbi Reuven Bulka, one of Ottawa’s spiritual leaders and the co-founder of The Kindness Project, and with the unanimous support of the House of Commons and, of course, here in the Senate, it was just a given; it was done. A bill to create Kindness Week in Canada passed in Parliament with the help of Michael Barrett of the Conservative Party and Liberal MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos.
Why a Kindness Week? Why is kindness so central to our well-being as individuals and as a society? To paraphrase Dr. Brian Goldman — yes, the doctor from CBC’s radio program, “White Coat, Black Art” — kindness and empathy are essential in everyday life. Dr. Goldman, the journalist, published his book on kindness and empathy in 2017. All the evidence you need to understand why kindness is essential for us as individuals in a society is in this book.
As for the bill, I was merely the messenger, but it was Rabbi Bulka who brought his vision to a national level, a dedicated week to spread the knowledge of kindness and how it changes everyday lives. We did it, Rabbi, we did it — a kindness law in this country, which I hope acts as a beacon to other countries. Canada, a place where acts of kindness simply build more acts of kindness.
Recently here in the Senate, we lost an employee. His name was Ismaël Ocal. He was a cleaner. He had a son with autism. He had a smile. He was here long before I arrived. We would have conversations, many conversations. They were the conversations which mattered to me. They brought meaning. They brought humanity. Ismaël, he was one of us.
Thank you for your patience, but I really did need this time because I just had to talk to you to tell you what it has been like for 17 and a half years.
In closing, over the years I’ve been rereading letters from my father’s brother, Uncle Lloyd Munson, who was killed during the Second World War. He was in the Royal Canadian Air Force and a crew member on a Lancaster bomber. I was born in 1946. We never met, but I have met his spirit. Every year I attend ceremonies at the National War Memorial to honour him and five other uncles who came home. I am named after Uncle Lloyd. My full name is James Lloyd Munson.
Every letter to my dad during the Second World War, whether it was from Scotland, Egypt or what was then known as Ceylon, Uncle Lloyd would sign the letters with the words, “So long for now, Lloyd.”
As I move into the next stage of life, I hope to be guided by the words of Marcel Proust, who said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights but in looking with new eyes.”
Honourable senators, so long for now. Be kind and cultivate your sense of fun. Thank you.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!