At the time this
article was written Aideen Nicholson was s Vice chairperson of the Association
of Former Parliamentarians. She was a Member of Parliament from 1974 to 1988.
The Canadian Association of
Former Parliamentarians presented its first Distinguished Service Award on June
10, 1999 to John Matheson, former member of Parliament from 1961 to 1968, who
played a key role in the adoption of a national flag in 1964. This article
outlines the selection process for this award and the contribution of the first
The origins of the Canadian
Association of Former Parliamentarians go back to a recommendation in the Final
Report of the 1985 Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons.
(McGrath Report). On May 29, 1996, the Parliament of Canada adopted Bill C-275
establishing the Association with the following objectives.
- 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 good relations between members of the Senate
and House of Commons of Canada and former parliamentarians
The law also requires that: “the
Association shall not pursue its objectives for any partisan political
The Association is managed by an
elected national Board of Directors with an Executive Committee. All former
Members of the Senate and the House of Commons are eligible for membership. In
accordance with section 7(e) of the Act establishing the Association, a Distinguished
Service Award was initiated to:
...(e) give recognition, by such
means as it deems appropriate, for outstanding contributions to the promotion
and understanding of Canada’s parliamentary system of government.
At least three months before the
Annual General Meeting, each member in good standing is asked to nominate one
candidate with a description of the contribution that he or she has made. The
selection of the winner is made by a Committee composed of the Association
Chair and five members appointed by the Chair, one each from British Columbia,
the Prairie provinces, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. The nominee
must have been a former Member of the Senate or the House of Commons.
Mitchell Sharp, John Fraser, Bob
Rae and myself formed a committee to develop criteria and a process for the
selection of recipients. The criteria were approved by the Association’s Board
in 1998 and later circulated to the membership with requests for nominations
for 1999. It is hoped that an award, based on the same criteria and process,
can be made each year.
The criteria focused mainly on
parliamentary performance but there is also an expectation of ongoing
involvement in upholding democratic values and striving for social betterment since
the end of public life should not mean the end of public service.
The first winner of the
Distinguished Service Award was John Matheson. The ceremony honouring Mr.
Matheson took place in Senate. The presentation was made by Barry Turner,
Chairman, of the Association and the Speakers of the Senate and the House of
Commons who are honorary members and co-chairpersons of the Association
During the ceremony it was noted
that Canada’s official flag after 1867 had been Britain’s Union Flag, although
the Red Ensign with the Canadian badge was regularly flown for qualified
purposes. In 1925, Prime Minister Mackenzie King appointed an Armed Services
Committee to investigate possible designs for a Canadian flag but the committee
did not report. In 1946 a joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons
presented a design but it was not adopted. The late Lester B. Pearson, as
leader of the Opposition in 1960 and as Prime Minister in 1963 raised the issue
again. He believed that a distinctive national flag would contribute to
national unity, a belief shared by John Matheson.
The flag debate was bitter and
prolonged. John Matheson chaired a parliamentary committee that tried to come
up with a compromise and his parliamentary skills played an important part in
eventually bringing about a conclusion. Whether negotiating with opposition
members, participating in committee deliberations, or speaking passionately in
the House of Commons. John Matheson was patient and persistent in his quest for
a Canadian flag.
“I plead, I beg of you to
understand what this means for the country we love.”
Following his parliamentary
career, John Matheson was appointed to the bench and served until his
retirement at the age of seventy-five in 1992. He continued to be active in a
number of organizations representing a broad spectrum of human endeavour. In
1975, he published Canada’s Flag and has also written Heraldry: Emblems of
In his acceptance speech on June
10, 1999, John Matheson’s patriotism and commitment to social betterment showed
clearly. He said, in part:
“Parliament is more than a
talking place. It is the listening post with respect to the hurting within the
land. In these hallowed halls there are no unimportant tears. No cry for help
must go unheard.
All those who make the sacrifice
to come here love this precious homeland – vast, rugged, serene. In different
ways, all seek to lay their very best gifts upon Canada’s altar. And more
beautiful, even than Canada’s wondrous lakes and rivers and mountains and
plains are her people, in all their diversity.
It is this extraordinary
diversity that allows us to actually create in this country mankind’s first
experiment in brotherhood. The surest way for us to stand on guard for Canada,
and to contribute as well to the betterment of the human race, the only race,
is to prove that we respect and love one another. Who, in 1867, could have
predicted that with our differences we could make it together? But faith has
proved greater than doubt and love stronger than hate. From inside Parliament
and from without, we must resolve to continue in the search for a better