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SENATORS’ STATEMENTS — The Honourable Donald H. Oliver, C.M., Q.C.

February 9, 2022

Honourable senators, I rise today to honour a retired senator well known to many of us, the Honourable Don Oliver. Appointed by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1990, former Senator Oliver served Canadians in this chamber for 23 years.

Among his numerous contributions, Don Oliver is one of two parliamentarians whose efforts resulted in February being named Black History Month.

Recently, Don Oliver published his autobiography A Matter of Equality: The Life’s Work of Senator Don Oliver. As I read it, I marvelled at the accomplishments of this remarkable Canadian. Last November, Senator Loffreda hosted an online book launch attended by many past and present parliamentarians, and included messages from three former prime ministers.

Born and raised in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Don Oliver’s life was guided by his parents’ values: work hard, be humble and do everything possible to help others. He was an exceptional student, even working as a cub reporter for the Halifax Chronicle Herald while still in high school. He was chosen as valedictorian of his graduating class at Acadia University in 1960.

Don Oliver went on to become a talented lawyer and partner of a leading law firm. His advice and mentorship helped many young articling students, including our very own Senator Wetston.

Colleagues, as I read A Matter of Equality, it was Don Oliver’s courageous and constructive responses to constant acts of overt racism that I found most inspiring and also most troubling.

Still today, Black, Indigenous and people of colour in Canada must respond to deeply hurtful acts of racism in a calm, controlled and respectful manner, regardless of how accomplished these individuals are, or how respectful they are being. I don’t carry this daily burden. For far too long, I have been naively ignorant of the benefits of my own White privilege. I now strive to address that ignorance through work and action.

It’s well proven that embracing diversity is not just a crucial social priority, but a powerful economic opportunity.

Throughout his life, Don Oliver worked to make the business case for prioritizing diversity and inclusion in Canada, and led a major project on this topic with The Conference Board of Canada 20 years ago. I wish we’d acted on his advice then, especially in the face of our current labour shortages.

Don Oliver’s aunt, the world-renowned concert singer Portia White, once said, “First you dream, and then you lace up your boots.” The Honourable Don Oliver, indeed, laced up his boots.

Don, countless people have benefited from the products of your dreams of justice and opportunity, your courageous and determined efforts and your landmark successes.

Colleagues, I encourage all of you to read Don Oliver’s book, and commit to fully embracing diversity and inclusion, both within the Senate and — as a result of our collective efforts — throughout Canada.

Thank you.

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