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Installation Speech

The Senate
Wednesday, February 8, 1995

Prime Minister:

I am honoured to convey to our Gracious Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth the Second, the message of loyalty and affection you have expressed on behalf of the Canadian people. Permit me to also add a word of greeting to Her Majesty The Queen Mother. It was my privilege to meet her recently and I am pleased to report her continued deep affection for our country and her wonderful memories of her historic royal tour of the late 1930's.

Today I accept the responsibility of being Her Majesty's representative with humility and with pride. Pride as the first Atlantic Canadian, and the first Acadian, to be called to this office and humility as I trace its history back to the one who is seen as the first Governor of this land, Samuel de Champlain. It was Champlain who explored the waters of the Bay of Fundy and established there the Acadian presence in the new world. Isle St. Croix in 1603. And Port Royale in 1604. We Acadians have been around for quite some time!

My wife Diana and I wish to thank our fellow citizens from across the country who have showered us with greetings and best wishes.

We also want to express our appreciation to the Right Honourable Ramon Hnatyshyn and to Mrs. Hnatyshyn for the kindness they have shown to us in the past two months. We salute them for their devotion to so many worthwhile causes - especially their support of the voluntary sector in Canada and we wish them every blessing in the years to come.

And, as I look out at this assembly, I want to thank all of you who have braved the winter winds to come to this place at this hour to bear witness and, I trust, to express approval as I begin my term at Rideau Hall.

Before I leave this Chamber, may I be allowed to say to my former Senate colleagues that the chair I occupied as Speaker is but a metre away from where I stand now. Yet, that metre represents a much greater distance than I had ever thought of travelling.

Prime Minister, one of Canada's famous sons, the late Marshal McLuhan, told us to think of the world as a global village. When I was a child in New Brunswick my village was my world. And next door was another world, another village. My world was French and Catholic. The next door world was English and Protestant.

On summer Sundays after early morning church when we set off to pick marsh greens, we walked slowly past other churches and wondered about people who worshipped God by singing congregational hymns in the afternoon.

The people who sang these hymns in turn wondered about us trailing down to the marshes to pick exotic plants for our supper - exotic plants like sanfire greens.

In our separate villages we lived our separate lives in our separate worlds.

Except when fire destroyed a barn. Then families with names like Cormier and Taylor worked shoulder to shoulder putting up a new one. When one family fell on hard times another family was there to help. Very often these different families did not worship at the same church or even share a common language.

But there were important things we did share. We shared the land and the forest, and especially we shared the water. Fences separating our cows from their cows were adjusted to pass over the springs so herds on both sides could drink from the same source.

We shared and we learned from each other. We learned from our differences. With time, some of us learned to savour plum pudding. Others sanfire greens.

Then there was a war! And, there, Prime Minister, as you so eloquently pointed out on the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings, we died together. Not as English or French speaking, Easterners or Westerners, Christians or Jews, immigrants or natives, but as Canadians.

When we only talk among ourselves all we get back are echoes. But when we talk with others of a different mind we are made to think. And it is in thinking that we learn and in learning that we grow.

But we only grow if we take the time to quietly and carefully listen to each other.

Very few of us in this country share the same past, but all of us can share the same future. Especially if we refuse to permit the past to poison that future.

If there is one group of Canadians whose past could have poisoned their future it is the Acadians. In the middle of the Eighteenth century they were wrenched from their homes and deported to distant shores.

Some managed to escape this deportation with the aid of friendly native people. But they were refugees in their own country, stripped of their land and their voting rights and then later, three years after Confederation, stripped of their schools. When it came to the Acadians, the Fathers of Confederation had nothing to say!

But the Acadians did not give up. We survived. We rallied around the church. Religious orders from the Province of Quebec founded schools that graduated our first doctors, priests, and teachers. It was my good fortune to be educated by the fathers and brothers of the Holy Cross whose vow of poverty was a reality for them and for many of their students.

Last summer some 250 years after the deportation, Acadians from as far south as Louisiana, as far west as Alberta and as close by as Quebec gathered in New Brunswick to celebrate what we have accomplished as a people.

We know that our survival was not entirely due to our own efforts. We had help from the people of Quebec and particularly the religious communities of men and women from Quebec.

Later in New Brunswick more helping hands reached out to us as our minority rights were recognized by enlightened people of the majority - people who knew that building a progressive society could not be the exclusive work of the privileged few.

These enlightened people shared the vision of Sir Wilfrid Laurier who, in the early days of this century, said this, "Our fellow-countrymen are . . . all those, whatever their race or whatever their language, whom the fortune of war, the chances of fate, or their own choice have brought among us . . . What I claim for us is an equal share of the sun, of justice, of liberty; and what we claim for ourselves we are anxious to grant to others."

This is what we Canadians offer to people who come to live with us today.

Where other countries require new citizens to renounce past allegiance to their native lands, we do not. In Canada we recognize a fact of life. People are what they have been. And what they have been is what they bring to us--an incredible richness of tradition and culture creating a unique Canadian mosaic that is a good example to the world.

We are all immigrants to this land. It's just that some of us came earlier than others. And those who came earlier were welcomed by First Nation Canadians already here for quite some time! Ever since, hopefully inspired by their example, we have welcomed others to join with us.

We do not ask new citizens to renounce their past. We do ask immigrants and refugees to be loyal to Canada and to care for Canada's heritage.

But then, what is our heritage? What is different about us?

My answer is rather simple. We have a long history of compassion.

The compassion that bound together the neighbours of my childhood is the heritage that binds us together today.

Remember last November's train wreck near Brighton Ontario and the family who took hundreds of strangers into their home? Hundreds of strangers who were bandaged, fed and comforted.

Remember the man who last month jumped into the freezing waters of the St. Lawrence--not once but twice--to rescue a woman and two little girls?

The story of this family and this man are not uncommon in Canada.

Since 1972, successive Governors General have awarded Crosses of Valour, Stars of Courage, and Medals of Bravery for acts of heroism.

But I ask a question. Are there not thousands of others who should also be decorated at Rideau Hall? Not for once-in-a-lifetime courage, but for daily courage. For monthly bravery. And yearly valour.

Walter Bagehot wrote that monarchs have three rights: the right to be consulted; the right to warn; and the right to encourage. Of these three I am most attracted by the right to encourage.

If I am to be known for anything, I would like it to be for encouraging Canadians, for knowing a little bit about their daily, extraordinary courage. And for wanting that courage to be recognized.

Let us recognize the parents who daily nurture their developmentally challenged children week-after-week, month-after-month, year-after-year. Let us recognize the children who care for parents struck down by an unrelenting illness such as Alzheimer's disease. Single parents, who, in the face of great economic and social difficulties, raise children to be successful adults.

Let us honour boat people and the communities who adopted them, the displaced persons, the refugees of this century, who came to this country with nothing but their hands and their hopes and through great effort and hard work have flourished in their adopted land.

Let us salute the people of Newfoundland, who live with the worst unemployment rates in the country, and yet have the highest rate of giving to charity.

Each one of us can add his or her own story to this very special kind of courage: stories we hear, or stories we live.

I am told that some communities in Canada already recognize such courage. I hope we can call upon their experience to build a national program that will honour the many, many thousands of our fellow citizens whose quiet daily bravery assures the care of so many among us.

One of the benefits of such a national program is the good news it will generate. Good news about ordinary Canadians.

I hope the journalists here today will take note. Having worked as one of you I ask this of you-- give good news a chance.

There is wonderful news out there and some of it you have covered magnificently. I recall the story you told us of Canadian peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia who put down their weapons to pick up and comfort orphaned children abandoned by their terrorized caregivers.

This is Canadian compassion in uniform and we have seen it many times and in many places from Gaza to Cyprus to Rwanda.

Fifty years ago today the Canadian army in Europe launched its last great offensive to liberate the continent. We were deeply proud of our armed forces then. And we are equally proud of their good deeds today.

It is for this reason that I requested that former Canadian peacekeepers be among today's guard of honour, the first guard of honour I shall inspect as Governor General and as Commander-in-Chief.

As I begin my tenure as your Governor General I can't help thinking that when my tenure comes to an end our country, Canada, will be at the beginning of another century and a new millennium.

And so it is an appropriate time I think to hope that God who has so richly blessed us in the past will continue to so bless us in the future. May God bless all of us across this land giving us the grace of mutual understanding and of generous compassion.

Updated: 1995-02-08
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