senators’ statements — Tributes

The Honourable Serge Joyal, P.C.

December 11, 2019

Hon. Joseph A. Day

Honourable senators, this is a sad day in the Senate as we pay tribute to our friend and colleague, Senator Joyal, who will be retiring in the new year.

I do not have enough time to list his achievements in the Senate or his many accomplishments before he arrived in this place.

For more than 30 years, Senator Joyal has served in Canada’s Parliament. He first came to the House of Commons in July 1974, and was re-elected twice more. During that time, he was a Minister of State, Secretary of State, and perhaps most importantly to Canadians, he co-chaired the joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons in charge of repatriation of our Constitution.

In preparation for my remarks today, I decided to read Senator Joyal’s maiden speech in the House of Commons, dating back to November 1974. The eloquence of his words as a 30-year-old, new MP should come as no surprise to any of us, and, honourable senators, he was speaking about the budget at that time.

He spoke with passion about the socio-economic situation in his beloved Quebec. His arguments were clearly laid out with facts and figures to support them. So it has been ever since. We all know in this chamber that when Senator Joyal speaks, it is wise to listen. He speaks most often here in the English language, which is his second language, and often without notes or hesitation about those issues he holds dear: rights and freedoms, parliamentary institutions, heritage and official languages.

Even our buildings have benefited from his great passion for collecting art pieces and historical artifacts. He led the initiative to purchase and seek donations of Indigenous artifacts and art, and other Senators generously followed his example. He donated the paintings used to decorate the Salon de la Francophonie.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the ceremony where he was made a commander in the National Order of the Legion of Honour of the Republic of France. Senator Joyal is one of most decorated senators of all time.

Senator Joyal, to say that your dignity, integrity and wise counsel will be missed here is a glaring understatement. We are at a loss. Your colleagues and I in the progressive Senate group wish you all the best for your coming retirement and good health and happiness always.

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate)

Honourable senators, the new year will bring many challenges to this chamber. Among them will be the absence of a most valued and long-standing colleague who was first elected to Parliament, as has been referred to, in 1974 and has served in the Senate since 1977.

My first memories of Senator Joyal are from nearly 45 years ago, when I was a parliamentary intern. As a young man, I was extremely impressed by his museum-like MP office.

Little did I know at that time that one day my own workplace, the Senate of Canada, would be adorned with beautiful and priceless works of art carefully curated and generously donated by Senator Joyal.

While as a young parliamentary intern I was impressed with his beautiful office, I was also impressed by the man. It was clear to me then, as it is today, that before me was a statesman, not just a politician. A statesman who, over the course of a career that would span nearly half a century, would leave an indelible legacy on how parliamentarians work, how our legal systems work and, as a consequence, how Canadians live their lives.

I’m, of course, speaking of Senator Joyal’s historic role in the study, implementation and continued defence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This most precious of documents enshrines the rights and freedoms that we cherish, freedom of expression, equality of language rights, the rights that have shaped the Canada of today as a country that respects, protects and celebrates diversity.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)

Honourable senators, this past July marked 45 years since Serge Joyal began his work here on Parliament Hill as a member of the other place.

As we all know, on February 1, he will retire from the Senate of Canada after a lifetime of public service in both chambers.

It is very difficult to neatly summarize Senator Joyal’s long career and varied interests in just a few words: jurist, author, historian, Secretary of State, Vice-President of the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada — and the list goes on. He is one of a kind and when Senator Joyal takes his leave of this place next year, he will be greatly missed.

It would take more time than I am allotted to list our colleague’s many accomplishments and honours. Senator Joyal has an alphabet of letters after his name which attest to that fact: Officer of the Order of Canada, Officer of the Order of Quebec, member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, and more.

Since his appointment to this place in November 1997, he has been a fierce advocate for his home province of Quebec and the French language. We have all witnessed the passion he brought to his work on many issues facing our great country.

He speaks bluntly but not unfairly, and has put both Liberal and Conservative ministers of the Crown alike on the hot seat when he thought they deserved it.

During the Forty-second Parliament, he served as Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. He expertly steered the committee through its study on some of the most contentious issues of recent years.

Senator Joyal has been a long-standing member of the Standing Senate Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest, serving in the roles of deputy chair and chair. He brought his fierce intellect and natural curiosity to all his committee work and to his interventions here in this chamber.

But allow me to make a personal observation about Senator Joyal that has been very meaningful to me. No matter how different our views may be from his own, Senator Joyal always welcomes them respectfully and treats one with dignity.

I experienced this first-hand many times. Senator Joyal and I were often on opposite sides of legislation and policy questions, yet he always welcomed my views.

I recall being the only plumber on the Legal Committee. I was surrounded by lawyers and constitutional experts, but rather than diminishing my contributions, Senator Joyal encouraged them, not because we agreed, but because in all the time I have known him, Senator Joyal has consistently exhibited those traits which I believe characterize a true statesman: humility toward oneself and honour toward others.

Senator Joyal, you have earned my deepest respect. On behalf of all Conservative senators, I wish you all the best as you move on to the next chapter of your life and extend to you best wishes for a long, happy and healthy retirement.

Hon. Raymonde Saint-Germain

Senator Joyal, like all my colleagues, I only have a few minutes at my disposal for this tribute, and that is not enough time to do justice to all the highlights of your long and illustrious career. The many awards and prestigious honours you have received through the years attest to your immense contribution to public life in Canada. Recently, I was filled with the same pride as my colleague, Senator Day, and most of our other colleagues who were present when you were awarded the exceptional distinction of being named Commander of the Legion of Honour of the Republic of France. It is a remarkable distinction for a Canadian and also an extraordinary one for a Quebecer. Once again, congratulations.

For 45 years, thus since 1974, the year you entered the world of politics, you have dedicated yourself, body and soul, to public service. What has stood out for me — above and beyond all your contributions, success and the work you have done over the years — is your passion, your great integrity and your strength of character. I also want to point out how you were always able to make Quebec and Canada shine on the international scene.

In that sense, Senator Joyal, you have been one of our most effective ambassadors. In your more than 22 years in the Senate, your sense of ethics, discipline and perseverance contributed to elevating the credibility of our institution, including in times of turmoil. One of your accomplishments that will leave a lasting legacy is your promotion of the French language and Canada’s Francophonie. The support you provided to Canada’s francophone communities was essential to their recognition, including under the law.

On a more personal note, I would like to salute your patronage of Quebec’s cultural institutions. It was always a great pleasure for me to meet you at various events in art museums in Quebec, and especially in my hometown of Quebec City.

I hope to see you there more often now that you will be enjoying a well-deserved retirement — I wasn’t able to find another word; it doesn’t fit you — from the Senate, although I know you are far from retired from your cultural, artistic patronage and multiple activities.

Your personal contribution to developing art within Parliament will also be one of your long-lasting accomplishments. Because of you, we are lucky to witness every day the beauty of Canadian and international artists in our place of work.

In particular, I would like to point out the investment you made in giving Parliament a large and beautiful collection of pieces of Indigenous art.

Senator Joyal, I think I speak not only for the Independent Senators Group but for each and every one of us when I say that your presence in this chamber will be dearly missed.

Thank you for your outstanding contribution to the Senate of Canada.

Hon. Jean-Guy Dagenais

Honourable senators, I want to take a few minutes to pay tribute to our colleague, Senator Joyal, who is leaving us early in the new year after serving in the Senate for more than 22 years. When I arrived in the Senate roughly eight years ago, I was appointed to my first standing committee, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. That is when I met Senator Joyal. As a new senator, it is important to listen and to observe — I have more to say these days — and that is what I did. I listened and observed.

The Conservative that I am quickly understood that this Liberal senator tackled every file with the ultimate goal of improving the legislation sent to us from the other place. As we all know, there’s often room for improvement. The parties in power, of both political stripes, have unfortunately too often rejected the amendments proposed by the Honourable Senator Joyal, despite their legal, linguistic and political merits. Here’s just one example: the legislation on medical assistance in dying. Some of our colleagues wanted to pass that legislation as it was presented, either by conviction or partisan obligation. In 2020, however, some provisions of that legislation will be reintroduced to us, but will be amended, because a court of law is forcing the government to do so. The government could’ve already done that if it had listened to the Senate. This political exercise could have been avoided two years ago.

Senator Joyal, you are leaving us, but I’m confident that you have no intention of stopping completely.

Not having to come to Ottawa as often may take a little getting used to, which is understandable given that it’s been your routine for the past 45 years, first as the member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and then as a senator. Let me also add that, thanks to television, I have learned a lot about your passion for the arts and for Napoleon. I watched some very enlightening documentaries. Few people in this country can match your reputation in that domain, and I’m sure you are just as disciplined in your work in the arts as you were as a senator.

In addition to being disciplined, I believe you have always been driven by passion in both politics and the arts. Luckily, in the arts, nobody has dared set an age limit on performing, so I’m sure you’ll be able to make the most of that for many years to come.

In closing, how funny is it that, in the game of musical chairs that took place here, you took on the title of “progressive” for a few days? Personally, I don’t care if you’re Liberal or Progressive. In my eyes, you were a senator who cared about the well-being of all Canadians.

I want to thank you for that and wish you all the best going forward.

Hon. Terry M. Mercer

Honourable senators, we are losing one of Parliament’s most intelligent and passionate legislators, and one of its dearest friends.

Besides his parliamentary history, Senator Joyal is extremely active in his community. He sits on the boards of several foundations and cultural organizations dedicated to the improvement of higher education, the protection of heritage and the promotion of culture. For example, he is a member of the board of the Baxter & Alma Ricard Foundation, which awards scholarships to Francophone university students outside Quebec; he is the president of the Lafontaine-Cormier Foundation, which aims to protect Québec’s judicial heritage; and a member of the board of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as well as the chair of its Decorative Arts Committee and Nominating Committee.

Senator Joyal has always supported organizations dedicated to improving the social and cultural conditions of the community.

His community involvement did not prevent him from participating very directly in the legislative work of this chamber. Most notably, he has served as Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee — an active member of the committee for 23 years — and served as Chair and Deputy Chair of the Senate Ethics and Conflict of Interest Committee since its inception, for 15 years.

This is only a mere snapshot of his work here in the Senate.

In his spare time, he has published several books, including a book called Protecting Canadian Democracy: The Senate You Never Knew. If you have not read it, you should. It should be mandatory reading for anybody appointed to this place. I would recommend you get a copy very quickly. I’m trying to promote sales here for Senator Joyal.

He has also written countless articles and lectured at many universities and colleges. Senator Joyal is very proud of his homeland and is honoured by his heritage. In many ways, he is as diverse as Canada itself.

As one of the Senate’s most committed senators, both here and in his community, we shall miss you, my friend. The best to you in the next part of your life — I am sure we will notice as you go through it.

Good luck, my friend.

Hon. Claude Carignan

Senator Joyal, it was impossible for me to imagine not rising today to recognize your invaluable contribution to Canadian society over many years and especially to thank you for your enormous contribution to this noble institution that is the Senate.

I also want to thank you for your friendship and the great camaraderie that developed between us, particularly during that unforgettable trip to Bordeaux with the France-Quebec parliamentary association. It is said that young people are shaped by their travels, and that trip certainly shaped our young friendship.

To be completely honest, when I arrived in the Senate just over 10 years ago, you were one of the senators who impressed me the most. I had a great deal of respect for you because of the many years you had served as an MP, minister, attorney general, senator and brilliant lawyer.

You will recall that, at the time, we were members of more traditional caucuses and in open opposition to each other. I saw you as an experienced and effective orator and, I would even go so far as to say, a formidable adversary. However, over the years, we got to know and respect one another and we even began to happily work together. Of course, that did not stop you from asking me some very pointed questions when I was the Leader of the Government and, naturally, you were rarely satisfied with my answers. I understood that it was a question period, not an answer period.

Your extensive knowledge of the law, your erudition, your vast sense of culture, your talents as an orator, your passion for Napoleonic history, but first and foremost, your tremendous kindness have all left an indelible mark on me. You have always been able to characterize and explain the traditional role of the Senate and its principles, and the functions of the political parties within this institution. Some would do well to reread and learn from your interventions, which were always well structured and perfectly logical.

As Senator Dagenais said, your speech at third reading of Bill C-14 is a perfect example of your extensive knowledge of Canadian constitutional law. The government of the day should have taken heed, for it could have avoided losing its case before the Quebec Superior Court on that piece of legislation.

In the Senate, we rub shoulders with distinguished and talented people. Quite honestly, Senator Joyal, and frankly, Serge, in my view, you are in another category altogether. Some would say you are a great politician. Personally, I would say you are a giant and that your retirement will leave a gaping hole in our institution, which is unfortunate.

You’ve worked hard all your life, and I know you won’t slow down a bit. It’s in your nature. My hope for you for the future, for the months and years ahead, is that you stay healthy so you can keep throwing yourself heart and soul into all the things that make you happy. Senator Joyal, it was an honour to work with you in the Senate.

Hon. Marc Gold

Honourable senators, today we pay tribute to the Honourable Senator Serge Joyal. As Senator Carignan said, the Senate is about to lose a giant.

How can I sum up such an impressive career in just three minutes? Luckily, thanks to the many tributes that have already been paid, we know about his numerous accomplishments and senatorial qualities, including his long and fruitful career in Parliament, first in the House of Commons and then in the Senate. We have also heard about the important role he played in the drafting of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, his deep devotion to the cause of reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of Canada, his love of the French language and France’s magnificent culture, as well as his reputation as a patron of the arts, whose name is a byword for generosity here in the Senate and in museums in Joliette, Montreal, Quebec City and abroad.

But what unites these many accomplishments and contributions? To borrow a phrase from the English common law, what is the golden thread that runs through this extraordinary life — my dear Serge, your extraordinary life?

As I see it, all you have accomplished, as a lawyer, parliamentarian and man of enormous culture, are expressions of your core values: a profound humanism and an incarnation of those fundamental liberal values that we’ve inherited from the Enlightenment — values that still offer us a beacon of light toward a better future. You have lived a life that has embodied these values; you remain a champion of the less privileged, of the excluded, of the most vulnerable. You are a proud and resolute defender of the oppressed and the marginalized, and a fierce advocate for the cause of justice for all.

Dear Serge, this will be your enduring legacy, one that will remain a source of inspiration for generations to come. Thank you for all that you have done for our country. As we say in my tradition, may you go from strength to strength.


As tenth in line to pay tribute to our colleague, I worried there would not be much left to say. However, as I look up into the public gallery, I see people Senator Joyal knew in the past, people he knows now and people who are part of his future. I see parliamentarians who served with Serge 45 years ago, as I did, and who are in the gallery today because of his loyalty to them. That loyalty has always been repaid in kind, because everyone admired his work.

Serge will go down as one of the great parliamentarians of the last 50 years, along with Allan J. MacEachen and Herb Gray. They are legends in this Parliament and I think Serge belongs in that line.

I also see people in the room who worked with him recently, as Senator Dagenais mentioned earlier, on initiatives like the amendments to Bill C-14. Those were the amendments that Serge introduced here and that were rejected in the other place.

Had they been accepted, there would have been no challenge and no need to re-examine the bill. Serge saw this coming, but sadly we did not listen to him. Serge, there are people here who are part of your present and who provided inspiration on this subject. I also see people who are part of your future, because there are people in the gallery who are making a documentary about your past for posterity. I am sure we will continue to hear about Serge for many years to come.

Like Senator Saint-Germain, I was at the ceremony too. I just want to read out a brief excerpt from the terrific speech that Senator Joyal gave at the ceremony:

What has always mattered to me as a parliamentarian, throughout all these years in the House of Commons and the Senate, was to strengthen the status of the French language in Canada by seeking recognition for the principle of equality, rights and privileges, making it a cornerstone of this language’s identity.

Serge, you left a mark on our past, you are leaving a mark on our present, and I am sure that you will continue making a mark on our future. I am proud and grateful that you consider me a friend.

Hon. David M. Wells

Honourable senators, I rise to pay tribute to a distinguished and respected colleague, a parliamentary giant and, most importantly, a friend. It was a pleasure and a privilege to work so closely with Senator Joyal on so many things. We sat together on the Modernization Committee, and on the Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament Committee. We also co-chaired the senators’ working group on the successful Senate Sesquicentennial Medal program, and we waded into many of the same debates in this chamber.

As many colleagues will know, Senator Joyal is a legal and constitutional scholar. He’s also our institutional scholar. His knowledge was critical to each study undertaken, be they Modernization Committee reports or studies of parliamentary privilege or physician-assisted suicide.

I’ve long appreciated Senator Joyal’s passion for history and his ability to provide historical context for our important discussions. He has always given the greatest respect to our multicultural and multi-linguistic heritage and, of course, he was and is a champion for Indigenous culture and rights.

Senator Joyal, ever the wordsmith, held the pen on so many clauses in so many reports that it’s impossible to count. Always a consensus builder, he was often able to find wording that could be agreed on by all. There are numerous committee analysts out there who owe him a debt of gratitude for making their jobs so much easier.

As I mentioned, I had the distinct pleasure of co-chairing the senators’ working group on the Senate Sesquicentennial Medal program with Senator Joyal. It was in this capacity where I came to learn the depth of his love of country and sense of tradition.

The Sesquicentennial Medal program was designed to give much-deserved recognition to Canadians who share the Senate’s goal of giving voice to people or issues that sometimes fly under the radar or don’t capture the headlines. The diversity and character of recipients were remarkable, and much of it was due to the tireless work of Senator Joyal, who enthusiastically agreed that this was not just a worthwhile project, but an important initiative. Thousands of Canadians — recipients and their families and friends — were impacted by this program.

Senator Joyal dedicated so much of his time to this pursuit because of his love for Canada and his desire to recognize those who helped make this country better and who ask for nothing in return, sentiments that he himself embodies. I consider myself fortunate to have gotten to know Senator Joyal over the last seven years. He is a patriot and a man of honour, elegance and integrity. When Senator Joyal does something, he does it for Canada. He puts country above all.

When I say Senator Joyal is a parliamentary giant, I remind colleagues that he contributed greatly to the very structure of this nation through constitutional discussions of the 1980s. Senator Joyal had a direct hand in what this great country looks like today. Throughout his career, Senator Joyal has never slowed.

Senator, I have no doubt that, even after your seventy-fifth birthday, you will maintain your pace and continue to make Canada a better place. The entire Senate looks up to you, your country looks up to you and your contributions to Canada will never be forgotten.

The Hon. the Speaker

Dear colleagues, unfortunately, the time for tributes has expired. I yield the floor to the Honourable Senator Joyal.