Tribute to the late Honourable David P. Smith

By: The Hon. Jane Cordy

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Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I rise today to say a few words about our former colleague Senator David Smith. A stalwart of the Liberal family, a dedicated public servant and, as he often referred to himself, the son of a preacher and, of course, a friend to so many here in the Senate. Always with a smile, David was good for a story or two. I heard many of those stories over many late evenings here in the chamber and when Liberal senators would gather in his office for camaraderie during the bells for votes. It is those memories that will always stay with me.

Senator Smith was full of stories about a lifetime spent in politics, from the campaign trail and from political adversaries and friends. But honourable senators, it is his compassion for disadvantaged Canadians that I want to speak about today. What many don’t know is that David Smith played a major role in the inclusion for the equality of persons with disabilities in Canada’s Charter of Rights. As a new Liberal MP in 1980, David was appointed as chair of an all-party parliamentary committee to hold public hearings on disability issues as the UN had declared 1981 to be the International Year of Disabled Persons.

What became clear to David, as chair of this committee, was the importance of amending the Charter of Rights to include those with disabilities. He took it upon himself to approach members of Parliament from all political stripes in the other place to press the importance of including those with disabilities in the Charter of Rights. Many of us remember how persuasive, persistent and charming that David could be. His efforts paid off.

On January 28, 1981, another committee that was considering the new Charter of Rights unanimously voted to amend the proposed Charter to entrench equality for people with disabilities as a constitutional right. This was an incredible achievement and one that Senator Smith deserves recognition for, even though he did not seek it. I was struck by the comment of David Lepofsky, the Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, who on hearing of David’s passing said:

Rest in peace David Smith, with our undying gratitude for what you have done for everyone in Canada for generations to come.

Honourable senators, Canada has lost a lifelong dedicated public servant, his community lost a passionate voice and many of us here have lost a friend. On behalf of the progressive Senate group and his former Liberal colleagues, my thoughts are with his wife, Heather, and his family during this difficult time.

Honourable senators, I have a picture in my mind of David sitting down behind the pearly gates with a new audience to listen and saying, “Did I ever tell you the story about?”

Thank you, honourable senators.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

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