Barry Turner was a Member of the
House of Commons from 1984-1988. At the time this article was written he was
Chairman of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians.
On May 29, 1996 Bill C-275
establishing a Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians was adopted and
thirty-four bronze plaques (one for each Parliament) with the names of all
members who have served in the Senate and House of Commons were unveiled in the
Visitor’s Centre. This article outlines the objectives of the Association and
the highlights of the May 29 ceremony.
The Canadian Association of Former
Parliamentarians, (CAFP) modelled after the very successful United States
Association of Former Members of Congress founded in 1971, is composed of
former parliamentarians who served in either the elected House of Commons or
the appointed Senate.
The founding Chairman, John Reid,
wrote that "to be a member of the Canadian House of Commons is to be a
part of one of the most misunderstood, misreported and most abused institutions
in Canada.1He was right and this applies to members of our appointed
Senate as well. Mr. Reid went on to suggest that creating an association of
former parliamentarians, resulting from a recommendation by the Special
Committee on Reform of the House of Commons chaired by James McGrath in 1985,
was a good idea.
A former parliamentarian as defined
by the Act establishing the Association means "a person who was, but is
not at present, a member of the Senate or House of Commons of Canada." The
objects of the CAFP as defined by law in Bill C-275 are:
to put the knowledge and experience of its members at the service of
parliamentary democracy in Canada and elsewhere;
to serve the public interest by providing non-partisan support for the
parliamentary system of government in Canada;
to foster a spirit of community among former parliamentarians;
to foster good relations between members of the Senate and House of
Commons of Canada and former parliamentarians; and
to protect and promote the interests of former parliamentarians.
It is also noted by law that
"the Association shall not pursue its objects for any partisan political
Over the years the Association has held
regional meetings in Halifax, Edmonton, Quebec City, Vancouver, and Toronto,
co-hosted by the provincial Lieutenant Governors. We plan to continue them. We
have also sent delegations to China in September 1992 and October 1993, at the
invitation of the Chinese People’s Friendship Association with Foreign
Countries. A third delegation is scheduled to visit China in October 1996.
We also participate in the United
States Association of Former Members of Congress annual meeting in Washington,
and are going to be working on some joint initiatives with our American
colleagues; one, involving a textbook on how Americans and Canadians are
governed, and another, possible exchange programs within our respective
countries of former members visiting universities and colleges. We hosted in
September 1995, a delegation of former U.S. Congressmen on a Canadian study
tour. We also hosted a very senior delegation from China in October, 1995,
composed of six members of the People’s National Congress representing various
provincial levels in China as well as a delegation of Chinese lady mayors in
The CAFP has also helped to
facilitate the process whereby former parliamentarians can be more easily
identified by security staff on Parliament Hill by helping them obtain
identification passes and to purchase parliamentary pins for themselves and
their spouses. Former parliamentarians have also been able to purchase a
limited number of used House of Commons chairs through their Association as
unique souvenirs of their days in national public office. The Association was
recently presented with a plan that allows its members to purchase life
insurance and/or health and dental insurance.
The Association has three hundred
paid up members, some successful projects completed and a challenging task
ahead to become a respected, effective Association of some of the finest
Canadians to have served in our Parliaments.
In 1991, the CAFP established a
not-for-profit, charitable organization called the Educational Foundation. One
of the purposes of the Foundation is to raise funds and to use them to promote
the knowledge, education and experience of the principles and the operation of
democratic and parliamentary ideals and procedure.
An ongoing activity of the
Foundation is its Speakers Bureau, whereby knowledgeable former
parliamentarians visit universities, schools and communities to participate in
seminars, round tables, and public meetings that deal with issues related to
our Canadian democratic ideals, procedures, and processes. The Foundation also
wishes to become involved with the emerging democracies and the evolution of
human rights around the world.
The most exciting initiative that
the CAFP has been involved in to date, was the historic unveiling on May 29,
1996 of thirty-four bronze plaques, each one representing a parliament since
Confederation, with the names of all Canadians who have served in our Senate
(774 persons) and House of Commons (3,687 persons) since 1867. The Speaker of
the House of Commons, Gilbert Parent, hosted this event in co-operation with
the Speaker of the Senate, Gildas Molgat. Tremendous credit must also be given
to the staff from the Library of Parliament and from the House of Commons
We had over three hundred former
parliamentarians in the House of Commons along with the current sitting Members
of the House and the Senate, to witness both Speakers, the Governor General,
and the Prime Minister unveil the plaque with the names of Canadians who were
elected to our first Parliament in 1867, as well as a similar plaque for our
It was also an emotional moment for
all of us as the Speaker introduced the former former members present. Davie
Fulton, first elected in 1945, stood with great pride as he led off the parade
of former members in the House.
A reception followed, hosted by
both Speakers and paid for through a fund-raising effort with some of its
member companies of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association as were
the thirty-four plaques for the House of Commons and the thirty-four for the
Senate. We are indeed truly grateful for this generosity.
In his remarks to the former
members, the Governor General, Romeo LeBlanc, said:
Canadians rarely allow respect for
their politicians until they have gone. Outside the trade few people appreciate
the hard work, the loneliness of campaigning, the elation of victory that gives
way to a new set of frustrations, the demands from all sides and the slow
struggle to move the constituency and the country forward. However, political
life must have some values or we would run out of candidates. Successive
generations in this room must have done something right or the United Nations
would not call Canada the best country of all. Somehow we have muddled our way
to greatness; not a bad record for this old building and the people who have
served in it.
As a former parliamentarian, he
said he was proud to have his name inscribed with the class of 1972, with names
from the past and with those of the future, because this country still has its
greatest history to come.
Some will say this ceremony was
about politicians paying tribute to themselves, but I see it in another light.
It is true we were honouring individuals but we were also honouring the
importance of parliamentary service itself. That is something worth
recognizing. (Prime Minister Jean Chrétien)
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had a
special message for young people who were watching the ceremony.
It is very easy to be cynical about
politics. We live in a cynical age. But not many Canadians have known more
politicians than I have. I have served with several thousand of them. They have
been men and women from all parts of Canada and from all political parties. The
vast majority have been people of integrity and commitment who came here to
build a better Canada. I have been proud to call them my friends. I want to
stress that they came from all parties because no party has a monopoly on
virtue. I have always believed that politics is a very honourable profession.
My conviction has never changed.
Gildas Molgat, Speaker of the
Senate noted that:
These plaques, filled with the
names of our predecessors, should serve as a visible reminder that this country
was built by ordinary citizens who possessed an extraordinary sense of
dedication and service. If we and the generations that come after us accomplish
as much, it will be because we have remained faithful to their dream and
fulfilled the destiny of this great land.
Gilbert Parent, Speaker of the
House of Commons, concluded so perfectly when he noted that Members of
Parliament are the political gladiators of Canada.
Former parliamentarian Douglas
Fisher, a respected Canadian journalist wrote about the ceremony and concluded
his column with the following observation: "Perhaps the pride that ran
through the place was best expressed by Judge John Matheson, much banged up at
the front in World War II and in the ‘60s the MP shepherd of the new Canadian
flag, who told me: ‘Those are rosters you should be proud to be on. And I was,
and I am.’"
In November, Canada rightly
remembers its war veterans who made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom. On
May 29th we remembered our parliamentary veterans who also paid a heavy
personal and sometimes public price to maintain our parliamentary democracy.
Without the firm foundation that
was laid for the Association by John Reid, and built up by his successors Bill
Clarke, Jack Ellis(deceased) and Roland Comtois, we would not have reached the
take off point. An excellent future lies ahead for the Association.
1. John Reid, "An Association
of Former Parlimentarians", Canadian Parliamentary Review, Volume
8, No. 2, 1985, pp. 10-11.