Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today to discuss Bill S-232 respecting Jewish heritage month. I want to recognize the work of my friend the member of Parliament for York Centre and Senator Frum for her work with respect to bringing this to Parliament to recognize Jewish heritage month and, more specifically, to recognize the important contributions that Jewish Canadians have made to Canada’s social, economic, political, and cultural fabric, and to remember, celebrate, and educate Canadians about that contribution.
One might ask why an Irish Catholic MP from Ontario is rising on this. It is because throughout my own life, and certainly in my passion for political life in really all my adult life, I have seen first-hand the critical contributions of Jewish Canadians to the Canada we all enjoy today. Therefore, I will speak to that, much like my father John O’Toole who, as an MPP in the Ontario legislature, introduced a bill to recognize Irish Heritage Day. I think the fabric, the tapestry, of Canada is made better when we celebrate and acknowledge what produced it, which is a cross-section of people who have come here for the tremendous opportunity that Canada represents: the opportunity for them or their children to form critical parts of our political, cultural, and social history. Therefore, I want to congratulate my friend from across the way and my good friend from the Senate for bringing this today.
I also want to recognize a very important person in my life, my late uncle, Paul Goodman, for educating me on Jewish traditions, for allowing me to join them for Passover and a number of special celebrations in the community, and for being my first relative to really challenge me to think about the world and Canada’s place in it. I am thinking of him as I stand here today, and my Aunt Jane, who remains a very important part of my life.
I think all parliamentarians have to have a great respect for Herb Gray, the first Jewish cabinet minister from the Liberal Party, who became a cabinet member in 1969 and by the time he left Parliament was the longest-serving parliamentarian. The “Gray fog”, as someone reminded us, was very effective at dispersing any criticism of the Chrétien government because he would get up and just dispel the Gray fog to much effect. I had the personal privilege of helping organize a dinner in Toronto a decade ago with the Churchill Society for the Advancement of Parliamentary Democracy to celebrate him as our Churchill award winner for his tremendous contributions to our parliamentary democracy. I think his impact is still felt in this place. I am sure I can say that my friend from York Centre probably draws some inspiration from the life of Mr. Gray.
This is how it has impacted the Irish Catholic kid from southern Ontario. At that dinner I got to meet a hero of mine, Mr. Barney Danson, who was the first Jewish defence minister in Canadian history, very appropriately so as he was a veteran of the Normandy landings and fought with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, our oldest regiment in continuous service. I just happened to be in its armouries last week as part of the Invictus Games. To have storied veterans like Mr. Danson serve with that regiment I think makes it and our country better. Like many veterans from World War II, he returned to Canada injured, with loss of vision in one eye. However, one did not see that impact his business career or certainly his remarkable public service as an MP or as a defence minister who understood the file from having worn the uniform of his country.
As a Conservative MP, it is important for me to say how proud I am that two parliamentarians, Senator Frum and the member of Parliament for York Centre, are bringing this forward, because the history of the Jewish community, like that of all Canadians, is not confined to the Liberal, PC, Conservative, or NDP parties.
I had the honour of meeting Larry Grossman before he died far too young, an MPP in the Ontario legislature and the first Jewish leader of the PC Party of Ontario. He assumed that mantle in 1985.
Of course, our Parliament saw David Lewis, leader of the New Democratic Party in 1971.
Last week, I joined many from the business community at the launch of Nuit Blanche at Toronto City Hall. Where did we see that exhibit? It was in Nathan Phillips Square, the namesake for a very important civic leader from Toronto, Mr. Nathan Phillips, a Jewish mayor of that city.
Also, I am very proud to say in the House that the first leadership vote I cast as a young PC, while still in the military, was for my friend Hugh Segal. He was not successful in his leadership bid, kind of like I was not successful most recently. However, he ran with honour and integrity, and with ideas for the future of the country. I was proud Prime Minister Martin later appointed him as a Conservative senator to our upper house.
We need only look at the wonderful investiture of our new Governor General yesterday to see how the arts community in Canada and around the world reverberate. Perhaps my favourite part was the spectacular rendition of Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen, someone from the Montreal Jewish community.
My previous experience with that song was hearing it sung at the opening of the Vancouver Olympics. It is now one of the most iconic and covered songs in the world, with its origins in Montreal.
Also out of Montreal, another contributor to the arts community, one of my favourite actors, is William Shatner. We were investing an astronaut as our Governor General. Who was the first space traveller we all looked to but Canada’s own William Shatner.
I remembered when preparing this speech, my sendoff to my friend Arnold Chan, who passed and left us, was an exchange between Mr. Nimoy and Mr. Shatner and his famous Star Trek line, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend”. I was glad to see the Prime Minister also used it when he eulogized our friend Arnold.
Certainly, that iconic friendship was from a Canadian Jewish actor and an American Jewish actor. It resonates with me still to this day.
How else has it affected me? The tremendous business success that some members of the Jewish community have enjoyed has often led to outstanding, in fact trail blazing, philanthropy.
I am a graduate of the Schulich School of Law, the Dalhousie University law school. That is just one of five schools Mr. Schulich has endowed to ensure we educate Canadians, be they here for many years or a few weeks, to give them the tremendous opportunities many Jewish immigrants had when they came to Canada, to have success in our country.
Indeed, culturally, politically, from a philanthropic and business standpoint, we cannot look around modern Canada and not see the tremendous impact of Jewish Canadians on our country. That is why I am so happy my friends have brought Bill S-232 to this place to ensure we mark each year with a month for Jewish heritage.
My friends have have said this is a celebration, but it is also important to remember and educate. Those are critical. I applaud, as my colleagues did today, the Minister of Heritage who said in this place that the Liberals would rectify the designation at the Holocaust memorial.
I was proud, alongside my friend from York Centre and others, to condemn the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in the House, in which members of Parliament can try to show the creeping edge of anti-Semitism. If we look at recent statistics, it is still the Jewish community and anti-Semitism that ranks as the highest hate crime in Canada.
Therefore, as we honour, remember, and celebrate, let us also educate. It is important for Canadians to realize that this form of discrimination, anti-Semitism exclusion, can still creep into our society. It must be called out when we see it. Parliamentarians have a special duty in that regard for all types of intolerance.
Reading the newspaper, I learned that the Prime Minister may honour and remember the merchant ship St. Louis. We must remember that terrible episode from our past, from the one is too many era, where we denied 900 Jews fleeing Europe at a time we should have opened up to protect them.
We have much to celebrate. I have tried to touch on this, but as my friends have said, celebrate, remember, and educate. I am very glad we will be able to do that each year as Canadians, whether Jewish or Irish, to celebrate the tremendous contribution of Jewish Canadians.