Farewell Speech to the Senate
Expression of Thanks
Hon. Art Eggleton: Honourable senators, it is time for me to say goodbye to the Senate of Canada after 13 and a half years of serving in this fine institution. I am also bringing to a close almost a quarter of a century in Parliament, which started with 11 years in the House of Commons, including nine years in the cabinet of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.
With my 22 years on Toronto City Council, including 11 as Mayor of Toronto, that brings me to over 45 years in political office. Time for a break.
Now, I don’t particularly like the word retirement, so I’m calling this my graduation because I intend to keep busy but with a little more balance in my life. A little more time with my family and friends. In that regard, I am delighted that a number of friends from Toronto and Ottawa are in the gallery and have been introduced by you, Your Honour, most particularly my daughter Stephanie, my son-in-law Les, and the light of my life, my wife Camille. Thanks to all of you for your love, friendship and support over the years.
Now the main words of any farewell remarks are “thank you.” Thank you to the four leaders of the Senate, Senators Harder, Smith, Woo and Day, for your kind comments within the last few minutes. I salute you in return for your extraordinary dedication to public service in the important roles that you carry out in this chamber.
Of course I am also appreciative of the support given to all of us on a daily basis from the Senate administration, from you, Mr. Clerk, and from all those who play supporting roles in the administration of this place, including security personnel, maintenance staff, and the catering, cafeteria and parliamentary restaurant personnel who keep us all nourished as we go about our work.
A special shout out to the folks in Senate Communications who have brought about substantial improvement in getting our views and our work projects better known by the public.
Closer to home, I want to express appreciation for my colleagues in the independent Senate Liberal Caucus — these people around me. We are a small group nowadays, but I think we punch above our weight, as the old saying goes, when it comes to projecting our values into the examination of legislation and committee studies. I thank you, Senator Joe Day, for your dedication and hard work in the leadership role, as I thank all past leaders of our team.
A special shout out to my own staff, executive assistant Janet McIlveen and parliamentary affairs advisory Michael Delaney, and also to Sarah Polowin, our coordinator for open caucus. To them and past assistants, I say you have been a major contributor to any success that I have had in performing my duties.
In my time, I have served on various Senate committees, but the top of the list, and I think the four leaders all expressed it well, is the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, where I put in most of my service during the past 13 and a half years. I was invited to join the committee by then chair Senator Michael Kirby, who I later succeeded as chair. I decided to dedicate my time, energy and passion to social justice and health care issues, particularly the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.
I have served as chair and deputy chair, in most all of those years, and have had an excellent working relationship with committee members, particularly those who served on the steering committee, of whom there are three current senators, Judith Seidman, Chantal Petitclerc and Carolyn Stewart Olsen. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention in that context immediate past chair Kelvin Ogilvie and former deputy chairs Wilbert Keon and Hugh Segal. We could have sharp disagreements on government legislation, but when it came to our policy and investigative studies, we worked as a team, employing the best evidence available. I am proud to say that every study we initiated over these years was approved by the full committee unanimously, and also received Senate support. Many of our recommendations did find their way into government policy at one time or another.
Much credit goes to our committee clerks, most recently Shaila Anwar and the researchers of the Library of Parliament, notably Sonya Norris.
Further, in regard to issues affecting our most vulnerable citizens, I’m pleased to have started and convened the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus open to all parliamentarians, and also to have convened and co-chaired the Wednesday morning open caucus sessions dealing with a variety of social and economic policy issues. My thanks to co-chair Senator Raymonde Saint-Germain and, in the past, former Senator Claudette Tardif. Best wishes to my successor in this project, Senator Jane Cordy.
Colleagues, as I reflect on the past 13 and a half years, I must say that I believe that the three years of this Forty-second Parliament have been the best ever. I largely attribute this to the new Senate appointment process focused on making this chamber less partisan and more independent. I know some of my colleagues don’t share my enthusiasm, and I respect your right to disagree. But I think we’re heading towards a Senate more in keeping with the independent body envisioned by the Fathers of Confederation and by current-day public opinion. I hope that in the future this path will be continued, but I would like to suggest one modification.
More appointments of those with legislative experience, including the House of Commons, should be added to the mix, regardless of past partisan connections. They, like all other appointees, can bring valuable expertise to the chamber.
Talking about partisanship, I hope, regardless of the outcome of the next federal election, we will not revert to the previous system of having most appointees affiliated with the two largest political parties in the House of Commons, the Liberals and Conservatives. That system, which I was once a part of, has run its course in this chamber.
However, partisanship to one’s beliefs or values is entirely appropriate. On that basis, senators could organize themselves into teams or groups based on those beliefs or values, while remaining independent of the established political parties. It is difficult for individual members to keep on top of every issue before this body, so working with people you trust and have common cause with will help to ensure thorough examination of all proposed legislation.
An alternative to what I have just outlined could be something similar to the U.K.’s House of Lords, where there still are political party appointments made based on recommendations from the different parties, but the balance of power is effectively held by the independents, primarily known as cross-benchers, which to me has some similarity with our own Independent Senators Group, or ISG.
One further issue I would like to mention relates to the forthcoming temporary move of the Senate to what is currently known as the Government Conference Centre while this building undergoes renovations. For the first time, meetings of the Senate will be fully broadcast and seen on television or other electronic devices, as already is the case with our committee meetings. That is good news because it will demonstrate the high quality of Senate debates in making the public better informed about the work in this chamber.
However, some improvements are needed in the organization of Senate business to maximize the benefits of getting the message across to the public. Without going into details, such matters should be addressed soon by the Senate Modernization Committee.
Colleagues, in addition to passing on my thoughts about the future of the Senate, which you may or may not agree with, I would like to close by wishing you all well in your efforts to make Canada a better place through the legislation and study reports that pass through this chamber. I have no doubt that all of you strive to make a positive difference in the lives of Canadians. As the old saying goes, the greatest of vocations is service to others. Best wishes to all of you in those endeavours.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!