May 17, 2022

Honourable senators, I rise today to bring attention to what I believe is Nova Scotia’s best-kept secret. Now, you might ask, “What is deserving of that illustrious moniker?” Might it be Nova Scotia’s geographic grandeur or our fabulous seafood? Of course not. Those are not secrets.

As is often the case, Nova Scotia’s best-kept secret is hiding in plain sight. It is none other than our friend and colleague Senator Dan Christmas. Senator Christmas’s efforts as a champion for Mi’kmaq nations in his home community of Membertou, Cape Breton Island, precedes his appointment to this august chamber by decades. Five years ago this month, Senator Christmas noted in his very first speech in this chamber, “There was no economic development and no employment prospects of any kind. No hope, no future.”

The community was in deep trouble, completely shackled by the oppressive measures in the Indian Act. Consider the facts: In 1995, Membertou had 37 employees, a budget of $4 million — 99% of which originated from government — and $1 million in operating deficit annually. Twenty-five years later, Membertou employs nearly 600 people — up sixteenfold — has a $112 million annual budget — up twenty-eightfold. Three quarters of which is commercial revenue — and has famously led the transformative billion-dollar acquisition of Clearwater Seafoods.

How did they do it? Well, Membertou unlocked the most powerful natural resource that they had, the only resource they had actually been left with: they unlocked the power of their people. Through this remarkable and hard-earned transition, Dan served as senior adviser to Membertou’s Chief Terrance Paul, his Director of Operations Bernd Christmas and his band council. The Membertou miracle, a complete economic and social turnaround, is now seen as very best practice in community economic development and Indigenous affairs.

Dan was very close to retirement when his community leaders asked him to consider applying to become a senator. Sure enough, shortly thereafter he received a call from the Prime Minister and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, as we all know, Dan is a man of very few, very carefully chosen words. He is a devoted family man, who reliably exhibits calming wisdom, grace and kindness. He is dedicated to preserving Indigenous customs and laws with dignity and honour. He serves as one of the very best mentors many of us have ever had. Dan is also allergic to self-promotion.

In that light, I hope that he will forgive me for my words today, but I felt it important to acknowledge that the secret is getting out. This week, Cape Breton University will confer a Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, on Senator Dan Christmas.

Our deepest, heartfelt congratulations for this long- and well-deserved recognition, Senator Christmas. Your selfless service inspires countless. Wela’lioq. Thank you.

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