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‘I am grateful to my adopted country’: Senator Oh retires

Senator Victor Oh stands in his office before a wall of framed photos, articles and awards.

After immigrating to Canada in 1978, Senator Victor Oh became a successful entrepreneur and then dedicated his life to helping newcomers start their own businesses.

Ahead of his retirement on June 10, 2024, the Ontario senator spoke with SenCAplus about his path to the Red Chamber, his passion for diplomacy and his lifelong friendship with a legendary mayor.

You were born in Singapore and you’re of Chinese descent. What brought you to Canada? 

Four generations ago, my great-grandfather left the Fujian Province of China and settled in Singapore.  Once settled, my family entered the real estate business. Because of this business, I became acquainted with the Canadian High Commission in Singapore as several of the staff rented apartments from our family business. We became friends and I began attending receptions hosted by the Canadian High Commission.

In 1975, after Vietnam fell, the situation in Southeast Asia was turbulent because Vietnam started occupying Cambodia after the Americans withdrew. The tension was high in the region. I was encouraged by my friends from the High Commission to move to Canada. I finally took up the offer and started a new life here in 1978. From that point on, I never looked back. 

After my Senate appointment, I managed to find the person who encouraged me to come to Canada and was able to personally thank him for this life altering guidance.

Before he joined the Red Chamber, Senator Victor Oh was known as a business leader and community activist in Mississauga, Ontario. He’s pictured here at an event in 1996 with his long-time friend and mentor, Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Victor Oh)

Senator Oh in his office during Asian Heritage Month in 2016. “As an Asian Canadian, I am deeply honoured to be part of a community that has played a vital role in shaping the Canada we know today,” he told the Senate during his last statement for Asian Heritage Month as a senator in May 2024.

Did you land in Mississauga right away?

Yes, and then I came to know a wonderful lady and mentor, Hazel McCallion, who had just become the city’s mayor. Mississauga was still a new city, and I would say that Hazel built it from ground zero over the course of her 36 years as mayor.

We developed a lifelong friendship — she was like a mother to me — until she passed away on January 29, 2023. The last time I saw her was January 14. I brought Chinese takeout to her home, and she gifted me with a figurine bobblehead of herself in a Formula 1 racing car. She had a sense of humour until the very end.

After she passed away, I was honoured and humbled to speak at her state funeral. I had never spoken at a state funeral before.

How did she guide you as a newcomer to Canada, and how did she inspire your political career? 

When Hazel learned I was a newcomer to Mississauga, she welcomed me with open arms. She began inviting me to public events and asked me to help and volunteer within the growing community.

Many years ago, Hazel shared that she wrote to Stephen Harper, who was prime minister at the time, to recommend me as a representative for Ontario in the Upper House. In 2013, after I was sworn in, I went back to Mississauga and Hazel was the first person I celebrated with. She told me that I should use my expertise in the Asia-Pacific region to help Canada in bilateral trade. 

What a remarkable lady. She really changed my life.

Senator Oh with then-Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion during one of their trips to China. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Victor Oh)

And you have spoken fondly about your overseas travels with her.  

I was very honoured to travel with Hazel to China at least five times. I remember several years ago we spent two days hiking up Wutai Mountain. Hazel was 92 years old, and I struggled to keep up with her.

Senator Oh meets with Her Excellency Anizan Siti Hajjar Adnin, High Commissioner of Malaysia to Canada, at his office in March 2022. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Victor Oh)

You served on the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry for almost 11 years. What was it about this committee that kept you on board for your entire Senate career? 

I think it’s incredible that Canada can produce so much food for the country and the world. Most Canadians do not know that we are the fifth-largest agricultural country. 

I have had the chance to visit so many farms across the country, and to host farmers and agricultural producers in Ottawa. They gave me an in-depth understanding about what we are growing and how we help the world. I’m very honoured that I was able to help Canadian farmers to export their products to the Asia Pacific region.

You’ve served on countless interparliamentary and friendship groups, including the Canada-China Legislative Association and the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association. Why is parliamentary diplomacy important to you? 

My home country of Singapore is also very multicultural. Even before I came to Canada, I was very active with diplomatic work. I’m naturally very outgoing and I love meeting new people so when I came to the Senate, I explored the opportunities in Ottawa for cultural diplomacy. I think Canada should focus on strengthening bilateralism with other countries.

I was very honoured to be invited by the president of Kazakhstan to be an international observer for the presidential election. It was my first time travelling to Central Asia. It was fantastic! I met with Kazakh officials, citizens and academics, and I spoke in a seminar about international trade. I felt like I was able to help nurture the relationship between the two countries.

I also travelled to Dhaka, Bangladesh to be an international observer for their election. It gave me a better understanding of the democratic issues in that country.

Senator Oh visits a dairy research facility in southern Ontario for the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry study on the value-added food sector in 2019.  

Senator Oh participates in a 2018 SENgage event with Grade 10 students studying civics at Blyth Academy in Ottawa.

Senator Oh offers encouragement to people loading up boxes of toys donated by senators and Parliament Hill staff during the Senate’s Toys for Tots drive in December 2017. Watch the senator and his Red Chamber colleagues as they get into the festive spirit during a special Senate edition of carpool karaoke!

You also worked in Centre Block before it closed for rehabilitation in 2019. Do you have any fond memories from your time working in the building? 

I feel honoured and fortunate to have had my swearing-in ceremony in the Centre Block Senate Chamber. I have warm memories of touring family, guests and many foreign delegations around the historic building. I look forward to seeing Centre Block again once the renovations are finished.

What are your retirement plans? 

I will never retire! I will always be looking for something to do along the lines of trade, economics and diplomacy. But I think I will also take the opportunity to play a few rounds of golf this summer.

Do you still have family overseas whom you can visit in your retirement?

Yes. I have eight siblings who were supposed to join me in Canada, but they never came because they thought it was too cold here! 

I am grateful to my adopted country, the people and our politicians. I am proud to say that I have friends in every political party. I have always used my knowledge and connections to do my best for this great country that I am lucky to call home.

Senator Oh with his grandchildren, Amelia and Joshua in 2020. The senator was collecting personal protective equipment to donate to long-term care facilities in Mississauga during the pandemic. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Victor Oh)

On one of his last fact-finding missions with the agriculture committee, Senator Oh takes a closer look at the roots of a plant at the Canada Food and Agriculture Museum in Ottawa for a report on Canada’s soil health.

Senator Victor Oh is sworn in to the Red Chamber on February 5, 2013. With him are former senators Linda Frum, left, and Marjory LeBreton.

Learn more about Senator Victor Oh in this article on SenCAplus.

‘I am grateful to my adopted country’: Senator Oh retires

Senator Victor Oh stands in his office before a wall of framed photos, articles and awards.

After immigrating to Canada in 1978, Senator Victor Oh became a successful entrepreneur and then dedicated his life to helping newcomers start their own businesses.

Ahead of his retirement on June 10, 2024, the Ontario senator spoke with SenCAplus about his path to the Red Chamber, his passion for diplomacy and his lifelong friendship with a legendary mayor.

You were born in Singapore and you’re of Chinese descent. What brought you to Canada? 

Four generations ago, my great-grandfather left the Fujian Province of China and settled in Singapore.  Once settled, my family entered the real estate business. Because of this business, I became acquainted with the Canadian High Commission in Singapore as several of the staff rented apartments from our family business. We became friends and I began attending receptions hosted by the Canadian High Commission.

In 1975, after Vietnam fell, the situation in Southeast Asia was turbulent because Vietnam started occupying Cambodia after the Americans withdrew. The tension was high in the region. I was encouraged by my friends from the High Commission to move to Canada. I finally took up the offer and started a new life here in 1978. From that point on, I never looked back. 

After my Senate appointment, I managed to find the person who encouraged me to come to Canada and was able to personally thank him for this life altering guidance.

Before he joined the Red Chamber, Senator Victor Oh was known as a business leader and community activist in Mississauga, Ontario. He’s pictured here at an event in 1996 with his long-time friend and mentor, Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Victor Oh)

Senator Oh in his office during Asian Heritage Month in 2016. “As an Asian Canadian, I am deeply honoured to be part of a community that has played a vital role in shaping the Canada we know today,” he told the Senate during his last statement for Asian Heritage Month as a senator in May 2024.

Did you land in Mississauga right away?

Yes, and then I came to know a wonderful lady and mentor, Hazel McCallion, who had just become the city’s mayor. Mississauga was still a new city, and I would say that Hazel built it from ground zero over the course of her 36 years as mayor.

We developed a lifelong friendship — she was like a mother to me — until she passed away on January 29, 2023. The last time I saw her was January 14. I brought Chinese takeout to her home, and she gifted me with a figurine bobblehead of herself in a Formula 1 racing car. She had a sense of humour until the very end.

After she passed away, I was honoured and humbled to speak at her state funeral. I had never spoken at a state funeral before.

How did she guide you as a newcomer to Canada, and how did she inspire your political career? 

When Hazel learned I was a newcomer to Mississauga, she welcomed me with open arms. She began inviting me to public events and asked me to help and volunteer within the growing community.

Many years ago, Hazel shared that she wrote to Stephen Harper, who was prime minister at the time, to recommend me as a representative for Ontario in the Upper House. In 2013, after I was sworn in, I went back to Mississauga and Hazel was the first person I celebrated with. She told me that I should use my expertise in the Asia-Pacific region to help Canada in bilateral trade. 

What a remarkable lady. She really changed my life.

Senator Oh with then-Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion during one of their trips to China. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Victor Oh)

And you have spoken fondly about your overseas travels with her.  

I was very honoured to travel with Hazel to China at least five times. I remember several years ago we spent two days hiking up Wutai Mountain. Hazel was 92 years old, and I struggled to keep up with her.

Senator Oh meets with Her Excellency Anizan Siti Hajjar Adnin, High Commissioner of Malaysia to Canada, at his office in March 2022. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Victor Oh)

You served on the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry for almost 11 years. What was it about this committee that kept you on board for your entire Senate career? 

I think it’s incredible that Canada can produce so much food for the country and the world. Most Canadians do not know that we are the fifth-largest agricultural country. 

I have had the chance to visit so many farms across the country, and to host farmers and agricultural producers in Ottawa. They gave me an in-depth understanding about what we are growing and how we help the world. I’m very honoured that I was able to help Canadian farmers to export their products to the Asia Pacific region.

You’ve served on countless interparliamentary and friendship groups, including the Canada-China Legislative Association and the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association. Why is parliamentary diplomacy important to you? 

My home country of Singapore is also very multicultural. Even before I came to Canada, I was very active with diplomatic work. I’m naturally very outgoing and I love meeting new people so when I came to the Senate, I explored the opportunities in Ottawa for cultural diplomacy. I think Canada should focus on strengthening bilateralism with other countries.

I was very honoured to be invited by the president of Kazakhstan to be an international observer for the presidential election. It was my first time travelling to Central Asia. It was fantastic! I met with Kazakh officials, citizens and academics, and I spoke in a seminar about international trade. I felt like I was able to help nurture the relationship between the two countries.

I also travelled to Dhaka, Bangladesh to be an international observer for their election. It gave me a better understanding of the democratic issues in that country.

Senator Oh visits a dairy research facility in southern Ontario for the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry study on the value-added food sector in 2019.  

Senator Oh participates in a 2018 SENgage event with Grade 10 students studying civics at Blyth Academy in Ottawa.

Senator Oh offers encouragement to people loading up boxes of toys donated by senators and Parliament Hill staff during the Senate’s Toys for Tots drive in December 2017. Watch the senator and his Red Chamber colleagues as they get into the festive spirit during a special Senate edition of carpool karaoke!

You also worked in Centre Block before it closed for rehabilitation in 2019. Do you have any fond memories from your time working in the building? 

I feel honoured and fortunate to have had my swearing-in ceremony in the Centre Block Senate Chamber. I have warm memories of touring family, guests and many foreign delegations around the historic building. I look forward to seeing Centre Block again once the renovations are finished.

What are your retirement plans? 

I will never retire! I will always be looking for something to do along the lines of trade, economics and diplomacy. But I think I will also take the opportunity to play a few rounds of golf this summer.

Do you still have family overseas whom you can visit in your retirement?

Yes. I have eight siblings who were supposed to join me in Canada, but they never came because they thought it was too cold here! 

I am grateful to my adopted country, the people and our politicians. I am proud to say that I have friends in every political party. I have always used my knowledge and connections to do my best for this great country that I am lucky to call home.

Senator Oh with his grandchildren, Amelia and Joshua in 2020. The senator was collecting personal protective equipment to donate to long-term care facilities in Mississauga during the pandemic. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Victor Oh)

On one of his last fact-finding missions with the agriculture committee, Senator Oh takes a closer look at the roots of a plant at the Canada Food and Agriculture Museum in Ottawa for a report on Canada’s soil health.

Senator Victor Oh is sworn in to the Red Chamber on February 5, 2013. With him are former senators Linda Frum, left, and Marjory LeBreton.

Learn more about Senator Victor Oh in this article on SenCAplus.

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