senators’ statements — Tributes

The Honourable David Tkachuk

February 5, 2020


Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)
[14:03]

Honourable senators, in about two weeks, on February 18, our friend and colleague Senator David Tkachuk will retire from the Senate of Canada after almost 27 years of service.

As the longest-serving senator in this chamber, Senator Tkachuk is the dean of the Senate, a distinction that he will be passing on to Senator Furey on his retirement. He has proudly represented the province of Saskatchewan in the Senate and will be the last of the 57 senators appointed upon the advice of the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney to take his leave of this place. Simply put, it is difficult to imagine the Senate without him.

David Tkachuk’s life experience before he came to the Senate has served him well in navigating Parliament Hill. As a teacher who launched sports such as basketball and volleyball at the school where he taught, he knew the value of teamwork. As a concert promoter and the owner of a direct marketing company, he understood the importance of connecting with people. And, of course, there was his long and successful experience as a political organizer and executive director of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan.

Over the course of his years as a senator, our colleague has chaired five different Senate committees, including National Finance, Internal Economy, Transport and Banking. Under his guidance and leadership, these committees tackled important matters of public policy, issues such as interprovincial trade barriers, intellectual property rights and the movement of our energy products by tanker and by pipeline.

Senator Tkachuk has also served for many years as our Conservative caucus chair and our national caucus vice-chair. He is perhaps most proud of the work he did with the Canadian Coalition Against Terror on his justice for victims of terrorism private member’s bill, which was ultimately passed as a government bill under the previous Conservative government in 2012.

While our colleague has faced many challenges in his life, perhaps none was greater than being diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2013. Throughout his years of treatments, Senator Tkachuk continued to do his Senate work to the very best of his abilities, under some very difficult circumstances, no doubt. He has been very open with sharing his personal story to help raise awareness about this disease, the fifth most common cancer in our country. I know all honourable senators join me in expressing sincere best wishes for our colleague’s continued good health.

Senator Tkachuk has been blessed to have the support of his loving family — they’re here today — through all the ups and downs of a life in politics. He and his wife Sharon celebrate 55 years of marriage this year, a tremendous achievement. I know they are both looking forward to spending more time with their son, daughter and grandchildren.

David, to say your Senate colleagues will miss you is an understatement. We thank you for your frank advice, unfailing loyalty and, above all else, your friendship. On behalf of the entire Conservative caucus, and indeed all honourable senators, I wish you and Sharon a happy and healthy retirement.

Hon. Raymonde Saint-Germain
[14:08]

Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to our esteemed colleague Senator Tkachuk. I will speak English, senator, especially for you.

Senator Tkachuk
[14:08]

You don’t have to; I’m used to this.

Senator Saint-Germain
[14:08]

Well, I like it. Dear Senator Tkachuk, while writing this tribute, the first thing that came to my mind was some of our differences, which may, at first glance, appear to set you and me apart. I’m a French-speaking Canadian from Quebec, and you are an English-speaking Canadian from Saskatchewan. You have dedicated your career to politics, whereas I spent mine in the neutrality required of public administration. It is what it is. While political sparring has always been second nature to you, I have little talent for it.

Yet in just over three years of sitting together on various committees, we have gotten along well and respected one another. Our relationship has perfectly embodied the old saying that respect goes both ways, and I wish to thank you for being so considerate in all our interactions.

We are actually quite similar in some ways. Our attention to detail is definitely one of them. Although I must admit that we sometimes obsess over certain imperfections and inconsistencies, we are steadfast in our commitment to correcting them, even if it means upsetting people at times. I can recall an episode in December when we were being driven from the Senate of Canada Building to the Victoria Building. You will remember that. That poor driver must have been so relieved when he finally dropped us off. Of course, we were not wrong to point out — five times in as many minutes — what little sense the route made and how we could have done a lot better had one of us been in charge.

Senator Tkachuk, you have overcome health issues and other personal challenges throughout your career and showed every senator in the chamber that great things can be accomplished through strength of character. Your personal victories, Senator Tkachuk, have inspired many.

I also wish to acknowledge your contribution as a diligent and actively involved member of CIBA’s Subcommittee on Human Resources. I sincerely appreciate how you have dedicated so much time to the subcommittee despite your busy schedule and how difficult it can be to travel back and forth between Saskatoon and Ottawa. Thank you for all those times you hurried to our meetings straight from the airport, hat and coat in hand and always right on time.

Lastly, your insightful contribution to the Human Resources Directorate’s work plan and the Senate’s policy on preventing harassment helped us better understand and address certain sensitive issues. I will even say that your disdain for political correctness enabled you to clearly express your opinions to the members of the subcommittee, who were then better equipped to deal with these delicate issues in a pragmatic and comprehensive way. You have always been a pragmatic man and I’m grateful to have learned from your wealth of experience and invaluable institutional memory.

After a 47-year-long career, with more than 26 in the Senate, you deserve a peaceful retirement, and I know that you are well prepared for it. On behalf of the members of the Independent Senators Group, I wish you many years of happiness with your loved ones. Thank you.

Hon. Scott Tannas
[14:12]

Honourable senators, not long after joining the Senate seven years ago, I met and befriended David Tkachuk. It’s an easy thing to do, to make friends with David Tkachuk. He’s a friendly and open guy. He’s got a great sense of humour and he’s lots of fun to be around. We had common interests; we’re both prairie boys. We also discovered that we had early careers that were the same: We were in the rock and roll concert promoting business, oddly enough. We love Maui, we love golf and we love golfing in Maui.

But over the past years, I have slowly — more slowly — and steadily come to appreciate the depth and the strength of my friend as I’ve watched him discharge his duties in the past quarter — the last quarter — of his time here in the Senate and the seven years I’ve been here.

In his duties as the Honourable David Tkachuk, senator from Saskatchewan, he’s a passionate, partisan warrior. He was an organizer with the party and served at that level. He served in the provincial government in Saskatchewan as a principal secretary to the premier. He’s been active in countless provincial and federal elections. He’s a brilliant strategist and adviser, and like all good warriors he’s always had a healthy respect and, occasionally, admiration for partisans on the other side.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed, as I think we all have, his professionalism and dedication to his committee work. It amounts to a staggering contribution to the country. He was exceptional in his attendance at committee both in terms of his body and his mind. So many of us are doing two and three things. We’ve got our machines in front of us and we’re talking to people. David was always attentive and focused on the proceedings of the committee. It’s a discipline that I wish I had and I’m determined to acquire. It’s an example to all of us.

He was a firm and respectful chair when he was in the chair, and when he wasn’t in the chair he was a valued team member on many committees and subcommittees. He took his job, role and perspective seriously and, in my opinion, he applied his skills and talents rigorously and bravely. He hated hypocrisy, and he demonstrated this often with witnesses in committee, with interventions in this chamber and sometimes even with colleagues at caucus. He created more uncomfortable moments in this chamber than anyone else that I can think of — always with a reason and always with a goal.

Colleagues, we must not lose this. We should commit to our colleague that we will all work harder to channel our inner Tkachuk to make the big decisions that we make for millions of Canadians that David appreciated are uncomfortable decisions. They should be uncomfortable. We should approach them with the rigour, dedication and application of values that Senator Tkachuk always displayed.

David, I wish you the best. Enjoy your retirement; you’ve surely earned it. From a grateful friend, from a grateful country and from our Canadian Senators Group, cheers.

[14:17]

When I arrived here 15 years ago, David told me, “Dennis, if you’re patient, one day you’ll make it to the front row.” By the time I made it, which is today, my front row is in the second position. But I was patient, David. I am here.

I plead guilty to my colleagues in my progressive caucus that we always got along even though we didn’t always agree.

When I was asked to volunteer, I said I’d consult my colleagues to see if they had anything nice to say about David. As you can see, that’s a resumé of what happened. I’m not going to read the emails they sent me, Your Honour, because you will call me in line.

I consulted a list of 50 other Liberals who sat with you to show that your partisanship did rub them the wrong way. None of them had very nice things to say about you. But yesterday my leader told me to have a little bit of humour. He told the two new senators, “Have some humour while you’re here.” I’m trying to have it, David.

After consulting my caucus, I asked Siri, Google and Alexa, “What about Tkachuk?” Still not a good source, David. They had things about Liberals being run over and things like that.

So I had to go back to my own experience with you. Also, as dean, which maybe one day I’ll be because I’ve been here a long time, I hope that somebody is going to have something nice to say about me. But in my case, the speeches will probably be shorter.

I must say, we did a lot of work together. I’m a little bit like those who sat with David. When I arrived here, I started sitting with David on the Transport Committee. We shared the chairmanship of that committee over the years. We didn’t always get along, but we did some marvellous work on studies.

We did a serious study on containers. We travelled to the North, we went to Halifax and we presented a very progressive report.

We did another one later on the management and governance of airports, which I was quite proud of having worked on with David — again, not always agreeing but always being sure that this is our commitment.

Obviously, some people say sometimes he goes too far. Comments have been made. We had the experience on Bill C-69 and on the shipping bill on the coast of B.C., where you didn’t enlarge your fan club.

Senator Tkachuk
[14:19]

Bill C-48.

[14:19]

Bill C-48. You didn’t enlarge your fan club, but on Bill C-49, you chaired and we had the bill on transport. It was one of the first bills that was sent back to the house repeatedly to get amendments passed. You did it successfully with the cooperation of senators on both sides. But you always did it — yes, with a bit of success sometimes — with commitment to your province. Bill C-69 and Bill C-48 were good examples.

Senator Tkachuk was talking on behalf of his province. I didn’t agree with him and I thought he was wrong, but I encourage everyone here to have that same commitment. It might not make you friends — it might make you a few enemies — but at least you will be respected. David, when I leave here, I hope that I will have the same respect for what I did as I have respect for what you did while you were here.

He’s like Frank Sinatra, he did it his way. I’m not recommending this to everyone else. This place would obviously be very different if everybody was a David Tkachuk. There is only one David Tkachuk, and he is leaving. David, I want to thank you for being a cooperative senator with me. I consider you a friend.

Hon. Denise Batters
[14:21]

Honourable senators, I am honoured to rise today to give a tribute to my good friend and colleague Senator Dave Tkachuk. Senator Tkachuk has been instrumental in my life. In fact, I have known him longer than I have known anyone else in the Senate, about 35 years.

From the time that I was 13 years old, Senator Tkachuk and his family were friends with my own family. I was a kid obsessed with politics, and when the Tkachuks came to visit, the kids would be in one room and I would be in the other room with the adults talking politics.

Senator Tkachuk was then the Principal Secretary in Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine’s government, and he regaled us with fascinating tales of life in the premier’s office and the time he spent on the campaign trail with former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. I knew then, as we all know from having spent time with Senator Tkachuk in this place, that he was a man of great wisdom.

From the time I was 12, I knew that I wanted to be a senator one day, but little did I know it would be Senator Tkachuk who would walk me into the Senate for the first time and I would have the incredible honour of serving in the Senate as his colleague for six years.

Throughout his long career in the Senate, Senator Tkachuk has advocated passionately for the people of our province of Saskatchewan. He is a true son of Saskatchewan, full of common sense, wisdom and fight. While some people might lose some of that fight as they near retirement, thankfully Senator Tkachuk did not. Most recently, he led the fierce opposition in the Senate against Bill C-69 because he recognized the devastating impact that legislation would have on the resource sector in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Senator Tkachuk’s unwavering commitment to representing the people of our region is an example to us all, honourable senators.

Senator Tkachuk is fiercely partisan but also incredibly wise. His opinion is highly respected by his colleagues in Conservative Saskatchewan, the Senate and National Caucus. When he talks, people listen, because he was always prepared and always insightful. As such, Senator Tkachuk has held many positions of leadership in the Senate, including serving as the chair of Internal Economy, Finance, Banking and Transport Committees. Although I still can’t quite imagine a Senate without you in it, Senator Tkachuk, you leave behind some big shoes for us to fill.

Prime Minister John Diefenbaker once said:

I am asked . . . are there rewards in public life? There are — not monetary but there is a tremendous satisfaction to being able to say I tried, I stood.

Senator Tkachuk, thank you for your willingness to always take a stand. You have served the people of Saskatchewan and indeed all Canadians well through your life of public service. I will miss you terribly, but I hope your retirement brings you all the rest and rewards you deserve, including more time spent with your kind and loving family: your wife, Sharon; daughter, Teri; son, Brad and, of course, your grandchildren. My best wishes to you all as you fill your next chapter. Thank you. Dyakoyu.

Hon. Peter Harder
[14:24]

Honourable senators, I’m delighted to join in bidding farewell to Senator Dave Tkachuk. Some will say my delight is motivated by his departure; not true entirely. Senator Tkachuk is and has represented a long tradition of Senate appointments. A lifelong partisan, activist, staffer, adviser and loyalist and, as Senator Plett mentioned, he was among the last of the 57 Senate appointments made by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and today he is the last person standing.

I’ve known the senator for over 40 years. When I was chief of staff to Joe Clark, a younger Tkachuk was a field organizer in the prairies. While I didn’t always agree on policy issues with the senator, I developed a respect for his political acumen and an affection for his love of country.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the new appointment process and the objective of a less partisan, more independent Senate. That does not stop me, though, in paying tribute to and working with those who came to this chamber as deeply committed partisans. In his 27 years of service in this chamber, as has been mentioned, Senator Tkachuk has served on and chaired a number of committees, and others have spoken to this.

My memory, which I will briefly share with you on this occasion, is his final speech on Bill C-14, medical assistance in dying. It was June 17, 2016. The final vote was about to be taken when Senator Tkachuk rose to speak. He ended his speech with the following:

I have been enriched by the debate on this bill, and I thank all senators for that. We are, after all, an appointed body, and this is a government bill of major consequence. We cannot — and I will not — thwart the will of the elected members of Parliament. We have done our job, and although it breaks my heart, I am going to continue to do my duty by voting for this bill in the form that it has been sent back to us by the peoples’ representatives.

Senator, I was grateful for your words then, and I believe they remain relevant for all of us today. I wish you all the best and hope that you and Sharon are able to travel more, take in the odd football game and enjoy your family. Best wishes.

Hon. Percy Mockler
[14:27]

Honourable senators, today we are losing a champion, an icon.

Honourable senators, much has been said about our colleague Senator David Tkachuk. Let us remind ourselves that when David received his bachelor’s degree in history and political science back in 1965, I am sure he never thought that one day he would become part of the history of Canada as a political giant who served in the Senate of Canada for 27 years.

That is quite an accomplishment as a parliamentarian. There is no doubt in my mind he has never deterred from the common denominator that binds all of us. He always strives to make his region, his province of Saskatchewan and his Canada — his country — a better place to live, a better place to work, a better place to raise our children and also a place to reach out to the most vulnerable.

Who is Senator Tkachuk? Senator Tkachuk is a spouse, a father, a grandfather, a mentor and a great debater.

Honourable senators, across Canada, many premiers and many prime ministers alike have sought his wisdom as a teacher, as a guide and as an adviser on public policies. These leaders would all tell you standing here today that he does exhibit friendship, loyalty, principle and commitment. Senator Tkachuk, you have earned your wings, and believe me, you have given many wings to others.

As a Canadian senator, he has never shied away from taking on a debate to improve public policies. Believe you me, some of his own colleagues, including myself, have also been on the receiving end of the oratory skills of Senator Tkachuk.

Some members of committees have told me, “Percy, he was aggressive.” I said that we could share many stories. However, it is fitting today to quote Muhammad Ali about David Tkachuk:

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

Senator Tkachuk, no one will deny, whatever role you were in, whatever vantage point you had, you stood apart as someone special, passionate and caring. You, sir, served Canada very well.

Senator Tkachuk, the scripture says:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away . . .

Honourable senators, Honourable Senator Tkachuk, I will not sing the song because I cannot sing, but I will adapt some lyrics from John Denver. To Madam Tkachuk: Now is the time. Take him home. Take him home to the place he belongs. And may he be surrounded by his great family, his loved ones and all his friends across Canada.

David Tkachuk, thank you.

May God bless you. A job well done.

Hon. Leo Housakos
[14:31]

Honourable senators, today is a sad day for us all as we bid farewell to yet another of our colleagues who has served this institution and the Canadian people with distinction and honour but, most of all, to someone who has been an incredibly strong voice for the people he was named here to represent — the very proud people of Saskatchewan. Today is also a celebration of Senator Tkachuk and all that he brought to the table during his time here.

David Tkachuk is the epitome of a partisan senator. For that he makes no apologies, nor should he. He wears it proudly and with full transparency. Senator Tkachuk was and always will be a staunch defender of the Conservative movement, of our policies and ideology and, of course, of our values and principles. David chose to be a Conservative because of who he is, not the other way around. Make no mistake; as loyal as he has been to the Conservative movement, he has never wavered in defending unequivocally the people of Saskatchewan first and foremost. He did it in this chamber. He did it in committee. And having seen it many times firsthand, he did it in caucus, in the Senate caucus and national caucus, both in official opposition and even more so and more vigorously when in government.

Trust me, colleagues. I saw it firsthand. When Dave Tkachuk went to the microphone, prime ministers, ministers, and MPs alike stood and listened attentively. That’s why David believed so strongly in being part of a national caucus. He knew he could go there and be the voice for the people he represents. As much as David cares about the region and the people he represents, he also deeply cares about this institution and the people whom the Senate represents.

When I was appointed in 2009, I was very humbled and honoured as a new senator to learn about the Senate and its role, as well as our duty and obligations, from giants like Noël Kinsella, Lowell Murray, the late Pierre Claude Nolin, Serge Joyal and, of course, David Tkachuk, himself. I was struck by how open David’s door always was to young senators who needed guidance and advice. Whereas many may see David as a very tough and rigid man, I see a man of deep conviction. I quickly came to learn that Dave Tkachuk is one of the warmest, funniest, affable and most generous people I have ever met.

That’s what I’m going to miss the most. As much as I think the Senate and Canadians benefited from Senator Tkachuk’s strong opinions and his insights and deep convictions, and as much as I will miss his continued guidance, it is Dave Tkachuk the man whom I will always miss. Senator Tkachuk is a deeply principled, deeply loyal Conservative, an outstanding parliamentarian.

Honourable senators, most importantly, in this place where many of us run for positions of leadership, Dave Tkachuk was a natural-born leader. When he walked into the room, by example, by his guidance, by his words, he just led, and we will miss that the most. And he did that while being an ultimate gentleman.

So, Senator Tkachuk, we wish you all the best. Enjoy your retirement. Enjoy your family. Thank you.