This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Skip to Content

Senator David Tkachuk: Expression of Thanks

Hon. David Tkachuk: Honourable senators, I’m sure when you saw all these papers, you thought, “Oh, my God,” but in reality I just wanted to make the type large enough so I wouldn’t have to wear my glasses. So it’s not going to be as long as you think.

It’s hard to believe that everyone here, except me and the Liberal caucus, were appointed after 2009. That’s all there is left. After what Dennis said, I’m not sure how I should take that. Nonetheless, a lot of us have spent a lot of time together and had a lot of wars together, but we have had a lot of good times together as well.

I want to thank all of you for your kind remarks. I also want to thank Senator Furey for his kindness to me and my family, not only today but on many past occasions. Your ruling allowing the emergency debate on Kinder Morgan was appreciated by Western Canada and it got the debate started in the House of Commons. We began our friendship working together when you were the chair of Internal Economy in 2009 and I was appointed the deputy chair. That was very much appreciated. Those were difficult times, but we managed to weather them and we’re still here today.

I joined the Senate so long ago that there were still two lifers in our caucus, Senator Orville Phillips and Senator John Michael Macdonald from Nova Scotia. The former retired at 75 and the latter died in office at 91. In Centre Block, right behind the Senate chamber, there was a little statue of Senator Macdonald who was the last “lifer.” Both were active senators when I got here, in our caucus, right to the end. I feel fortunate to have served with them.

Just as they represented the end of an era, so do I. I am the last of Prime Minister Mulroney’s appointments. I’ll be forever grateful to him for sending me here.

This will be a difficult speech for me. Usually I try to make them difficult for those on the opposite side. Let me begin by thanking my family for their love and support, their patience, during my time here. They’re the most important part of my life. When I was appointed at the age of 48, my parents were still with us. While they didn’t come here for my maiden speech, they were able to come here for the Throne Speech in 1994 which was given by the first Ukrainian governor general. That was Ray Hnatyshyn who also happened to be the son of a fellow Saskatchewan senator appointed by John Diefenbaker.

My mother, Pauline, got to sit on the floor of the Senate, which is appropriate as she was the one who introduced debate at home during dinner. My father, George, was proudly content to sit in the viewing gallery.

I have come full circle in a way. In the gallery today are my daughter Teresa, who flew in from Green Bay last night, and my son, Brad, who flew in from Vancouver. They are joined by Teresa’s partner, Keith Boye, and Teri’s son, my grandson, Brayden Benedetti.

Brad’s wife, my daughter-in-law, Nancy Martin, and their two children, my grandchildren Fay and Max, were not able to join us today, but they will be celebrating with us this weekend in Saskatoon. And, of course, my wife, Sharon, is here. We were high school sweethearts and she is still my rock. All our lives revolve around her strength and wisdom.

I hope you will take the time to meet with them later in the day.

(1440)

I want to thank my staff. When I was first appointed, I was lucky to be able to hire Rhonda Walker, who managed to work on a PhD and have three children while she was with me. I was busy, but she was obviously a lot busier than me.

Sitting with her in the gallery are Katarina Shave, my parliamentary assistant, who has worked for me for 22 years; and Robin Hay, my legislative assistant and director of parliamentary affairs, who has been with me for 15 years. They will both continue to contribute to the work of the Senate as I take my leave from this place.

All have contributed greatly to the work I have been able to do in the Senate and in politics. They have my everlasting gratitude.

I want to thank all those who work here in the administration — the clerks who manage our committees under the most trying circumstances, especially the committees that I have been fortunate enough — or, for them, unfortunate enough — to be on.

A special thanks goes to those clerks and library staff, past and present, who have worked on committees that I chaired. Your professionalism and advice were always appreciated.

I also offer my thanks to the security personnel who keep us safe. None of us who were here will forget October 2014, when they responded quickly and efficiently. We were all thankful for them.

As I said in my maiden speech almost 27 years ago, it is a wonderful country where the son of an electrician from Baie-Comeau, Quebec, who grew up in a semi-detached house, can reach out to a second-generation Ukrainian Canadian who grew up in the back of a general store in a small town called Weirdale, in the riding of Prince Albert, and appoint him to the Senate of Canada.

I arrived here on June 10, 1993. At that time, anger in the West resulted in a new Conservative voice in the country led by Preston Manning and the Reform Party. In the house, the Bloc Quebecois, led by Lucien Bouchard, who won almost all the francophone ridings in Quebec, formed the opposition.

I leave the Senate with the political situation in the country somewhat echoing what it was when I entered it: the Conservatives lost the election, there is anger in the West and the Bloc has been resurrected in Quebec. This is where we are some four years after Stephen Harper, during whose government support for separation in Quebec declined and there was unity in the rest of the country.

Though I was disappointed in the result of the election of October 2019, I congratulate the Liberals on their victory. I can’t call them “the progressives”; I just can’t bring myself to, so if you’ll excuse me, I congratulate the Liberals on their victory and savour the fact that the election gave me a little more time to prepare for this week.

When I was appointed in 1993, the Senate was on the cusp of its summer recess; with the election that year, I did not give my maiden speech until the following year, on February 22, 1994. I began that speech, which was a reply to the Speech from the Throne, with the words:

I find myself with the unexpected freedom and inclination to say too much, forgetting as I wrote this that, God willing, I have another 26 years to say what I want to say.

Well, God was willing and here we are 26 years later. I have enjoyed every minute of it and I’m still speaking.

When I arrived here, I was no sooner sworn in than I was rushed to a Banking Committee meeting featuring the Governor of the Bank, John Crow. It was in the East Block and I got lost.

Over the next 26 years I was a member of 10 different standing committees and 4 special committees. I was a chair or deputy chair of one or another committee for all but a total of a year and a half of those 26 years.

Committee work is important because that is where we learn to — where we have to — play well with others. In all my 26 years there were maybe only three instances where I didn’t manage to get along with my fellow Liberals on committee and only one instance with one individual where that never resolved itself. I have no regrets about that.

One of the things I tried to encourage as chair was for the committee to interrupt its business and embark on short studies — one to three meetings — if an issue arose that was newsworthy or of national importance. I encourage committees to continue that practice after I leave.

For instance, maybe Transport and Communications could invite Ezra Levant to appear to inquire about why investigators from Elections Canada hauled him in because he wrote a book critical of Justin Trudeau during the last election.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Tkachuk: During my first decade here, I spent a good portion of my time working on Aboriginal issues. I was on the Aboriginal Affairs Committee and moved a private member’s bill on First Nations self-government called Bill S-10. It was seconded by Senator Walter Twinn, Chief of the Sawridge First Nation, and it was supported by all the chiefs in the province of Alberta, and I think also in Treaty 8.

I was also made chair of the Finance Committee and served on the special committee looking into Pearson Airport. That was in 1995. In 1996 I became deputy chair of Banking, Trade and Commerce. I think there has been only a six-month period since then that I have not been a member of that committee.

My most rewarding experience was being co-chair of the Progressive Conservative Election Committee for the 1997 election. My co-chair was our late and lamented colleague Pierre-Claude Nolin, our former speaker.

For that election, I also recruited a young man named Percy Mockler to be campaign chair for New Brunswick. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

We elected 20 members in 1997 and were restored to party status.

That would not have been possible if we did not have a Conservative Senate caucus that basically functioned as our national caucus. Senators volunteered to raise money, serve on the executive and work on the campaign. Senators like Gerry St. Germain, who was our party president, David Angus and Michael Meighen, our fundraisers, along with volunteers like Peter White, who was chair of our fund, worked tirelessly to repair the damage of the 1993 campaign.

Having only two members in the house — Elsie Wayne and Jean Charest, to whom we all owe an enormous debt — counting on party members in the Senate to carry on the work of the Conservative caucus is what made all this possible.

The Liberal Party experienced a similar situation when they were reduced to 35 members under Michael Ignatieff. The Liberal Senate caucus became important to that party’s survival and revival. I am sure they have their stories.

In these two situations the Senate helped preserve our national parties that have served this country so well throughout our history.

My second decade here — the first of this century — began full of optimism. But as everyone remembers, that optimism was quickly interrupted by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and the world has never been the same.

I was privileged to serve on the Special Senate Committee on Anti-terrorism, and in 2005 I introduced in the Senate a bill called the “Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.”

Stockwell Day moved a sister bill in the house. Mine fell off the Order Paper several times. However, persistence pays off, because in September 2011, 10 years after 9/11, it was introduced as government legislation under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and it became law in 2012. For this I say thank you to Prime Minister Harper, as should we all.

Canadians also owe a big thanks to the Canadian Coalition Against Terror, and especially Sheryl Saperia and Danny Eisen, who encouraged me to introduce the bill and were with me and my office every step of the way.

In my maiden speech I said the following:

We know as parliamentarians that our system benefits from strong national parties . . . it is within the broad-based parties that people learn the skills necessary to govern, to debate, to sell ideas and to compromise. To give a little and, as Jesse Jackson put it, to find common ground.

I have never been convinced by the arguments put forth by this government that getting rid of party affiliations in the Senate makes for an independent Senate. The Senate has always been independent, and the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that in its 2014 reference, when it wrote:

The contrast between election for members of the House of Commons and executive appointment for Senators is not an accident of history. The framers of the Constitution Act, 1867 deliberately chose executive appointment of Senators in order to allow the Senate to play the specific role of a complementary legislative body of “sober second thought.”

What the court said is that by virtue of their appointment and tenure, senators are thoroughly independent and able to engage in sober second thought. It has nothing to do with independence from a party.

The new definition of independence is a wilful misinterpretation of the original meaning of Senate independence to advance a policy agenda. We will lose something if we get rid of parties in the Senate.

As noted constitutional scholar David E. Smith wrote in his chapter on the Senate in his book The Constitution in a Hall of Mirrors:

. . . legislative bodies and political systems need the articulation of conflicting views if they are to be strongly democratic: the law of politics bids debate. . . . In the well-known words of Edmund Burke, “Our antagonist is our helper.”

(1450)

The Senate requires patience and it should. Rather than getting rid of the official opposition and changing the rules to move legislation along at the speed a government likes, we should welcome dissenting opinions strongly made.

Opposing views within parties and within caucuses already force compromise. When we meet as a Conservative caucus, we practise the art of compromise because there are differing points of view. Just because members of a caucus enter the chamber or the house speaking with one voice, it doesn’t mean they are partisan. It means they are a team, made up of team players.

Independence from parties does not make senators independent. Tenure does. And if groups are together long enough, they will become as partisan as parties. Parties are an organizing mechanism and an effective one, no more, no less. You dispense with that mechanism at your peril.

The media bear a portion of that blame since they are the ones who do that the most. No one has a monopoly on identifying problems in a society. Our differences of opinion, strongly held, are always over solutions, not the problem itself in this great and wonderful country.

When our opinions and those of others are seen only through the prism of partisanship, the effect is to devalue them, discount them before they even have been expressed, as if nothing but blind allegiance could possibly lie behind those arguments, with no thought having been given to them whatsoever. I resent that. It is the worst form of identity politics.

What do we have on our side as a minority in this place? We have the rules, the right to oppose and an obligation to tell our story so that the people know there is more to the story than what the government is telling. It’s called debate.

I don’t oppose just to oppose. I oppose because I disagree. And I use the tools I have available to me. Defending the views of the political minority in the country is the responsibility of the majority. If you abandon that principle, you abandon democracy itself. And that is a fact.

Senator Joyal’s book Protecting Canadian Democracy was mentioned and recommended as required reading during the tributes to him. One of the contributors to that book, the historian Janet Ajzenstat, wrote that political thinkers and parliamentarians at the time of Confederation thought of Parliament as a system of checks and balances:

 . . . it fell to the Senate to exercise “the power of the check” on Cabinet and the Commons. The Senate had the task of delaying or obstructing legislation when it appeared that a cabinet was attempting to use its majority in the Commons to silence dissent and suppress minorities.

What I fear now is a Senate that silences dissent and suppresses the minority in this place.

Henry Kissinger, a Jewish refugee from Germany during the Second World War, wrote in the 1950s that:

It is the essence of a democratic system that the loser can accept his defeat with relative grace. It is the essence of a totalitarian system that the victor assumes the right to proscribe his opponents.

I have very few regrets as I leave, but one of them is that I never spoke up when Allan Rock, the President of the University of Ottawa, wrote a letter effectively preventing Conservative commentator Ann Coulter from speaking at an event that had been organized there. I regret it not so much because I didn’t stand up for Ann Coulter, a Conservative speaker; I regret it because I didn’t stand up for free speech.

The whole Senate should be embarrassed. The press who represent the very concept of free speech sat on their hands. And I’ll tell you what, senators, if they don’t fight for her, they will not fight for me and they will not fight for you. And then God help us.

I am an optimist, though. I envy the future of my grandchildren. I appreciate this wonderful gift of a parliamentary democracy inherited from the geniuses of the past.

I do worry about the constant virtue signalling and the mob mentality that takes hold in our social media to shut down voices that are usually, but not always, Conservative. I worry about race baiting, and I worry about culture wars. I am proud of our culture; I really am. I am proud of what we have accomplished in our country. Many seek perfection, but there is no heaven on earth. All we can do is continue to confront our failures. That is called human progress. Culture wars and race baiting prevent us from getting to know each other and that, my friends, is a recipe for disaster.

I want to say how much I cherish my present and past caucus members and leaders, and how much I loved being with them.

My favourite meeting was always the Senate caucus because, agree with the other members or not, this was my team. I was fortunate enough to lead it for seven years as caucus chair. I will miss that meeting the most. The great leaders that I served under here were John Lynch-Staunton, Marjory LeBreton, Claude Carignan, Larry Smith and now Donald Plett.

My second-favourite meeting was the national caucus, and I will miss that as well. As Senate caucus chair, I was vice-chair of national caucus and got to chair a few of those meetings during that time. I will miss hearing the elected members debate with passion, composure and intellect. Every week I spent here is something I will always treasure.

To witness our leaders Andrew Scheer, Rona Ambrose, Prime Minister Harper, Peter MacKay, Joe Clark and Jean Charest confront problems of party and country was a privilege for me.

And, finally, to the people of Saskatchewan, my one and only home, thank you for the privilege of serving you. I have tried to represent my province and my region with as much fervour as I could muster. We will weather this latest storm of failed Liberal policies, of that I am sure. Your elected members will see to it.

My parting words of advice for this Prime Minister — as soon as I get a little partisan, I feel better — as he searches for western representation is to look no further than across the aisle to those elected members there, who he should listen to. His solution to western representation is staring at him every day, selected by the people of Canada.

And to all senators, it has been a privilege working with you. I mean that. You are here bearing a huge responsibility, and I believe you will pass the test. I will miss this place.

In preparing for a retirement party at home on Saturday, I created a slide show and had to choose music. The first song I chose was “Simple Man” by Travis Tritt. I thought that was perfect. The second one was Alabama’s “I Get Things Done.”

The last song was the easiest; it was “Closing Time,” by one of my favourite songwriters and wordsmiths, Leonard Cohen. I am sure when he wrote this verse that I am about to quote, when he painted that picture of days and time gone by, he was not thinking of the Senate. But they are words for all of us. He sings:

The fiddler fiddles something so sublime, all the women tear their blouses off, and the men they dance on the polka dots, and it’s partner found and it’s partner lost, and it’s hell to pay when the fiddler stops. It’s closing time.

I hope the picture I painted over 26 years will stand the test of time. Thank you.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!