Who inspired you to get involved in public life?
For as long as I can remember, I have believed that we are so fortunate to live in our country, Canada, and that we must not take our democracy for granted. It is our responsibility to ensure the privileges we enjoy as Canadians - the freedoms, the opportunities - are not ever in jeopardy. As such, I believe that we must all get involved in the "public sphere" in some way, and we must "give back" something to our communities.
While I have been fortunate to have had good teachers and good friends over the years, there is no doubt in my mind that the strongest influence on me has been the fine example of public service commitment that I saw in my own father. He believed in the importance of "giving back” and did so in many ways over his lifetime. Perhaps most important was the way he engaged youth in our country, and became involved in the Scouting movement on a local, provincial, national, and international level. He brought a very heterogeneous approach to what was then a pretty homogenous one by encouraging multi-ethnic and multi-racial Scout Troops and summer camps in Montreal and Quebec. He organized and brought the first International Boy Scout-Girl Guide Jamboree to Montreal and I attended it.
I, too, have chosen to work with young people over the years, to help them understand our political system and to encourage them to get involved in some way in their communities. As you look around the world today, you can see how fragile democracy is and how fortunate we are to live in one.
What do you think are the biggest public policy issues facing Canada today?
The most important issue for our country is to begin to think outside the box on how we are providing health care for Canadians. Each government is afraid to broach the real issues because they worry that Canadians will turn against them. So we turn a blind eye to what has already eroded and become the dreaded “two-tier” system.
If only we would look around the world for examples, especially countries we modelled our own system on such as the UK, Finland, Sweden, France, and the Netherlands. They have all moved to a mixed public/private provider system.
We can’t afford to stick our heads in the sand in a dogmatic way. We must be more innovative and use the private sector all the while protecting our universal coverage and access. It can be done. We parliamentarians must muster the courage to do this for the good of next generations.
Why should more Canadians care about what happens in the Senate?
I, like most Canadians, knew little about the Senate before I began to serve here. What I soon discovered is that it was an essential consideration in the design of our constitutional structure. Our Founding Fathers thought long and hard about the role of the Senate, in fact they debated its formulation the longest of all other issues - for one full week. They recognized the importance of protecting the right to political dissent from possible attacks by a majority embodied in the House of Commons.
The Senate is an integral part of our bicameral system. It was composed on the basis of sectional and regional equality to ensure the protection of the various interests in Canada, as well as the protection of minority and linguistic rights. The responsibility to represent minorities in our regions at the federal level is unique to the Senate.
I am proud of the work we do, the serious and frank thought we give to both committee studies and legislation. Senators don’t face the uncertainty of elections and that is a privilege that brings nontrivial responsibilities. We can analyze and plan more long term than Members of Parliament, more systemically, more big-picture, for Canadians.
It is important that Canadians participate in these debates and interact with us (Senators) in order to ensure the original intent of our Founding Fathers.
What legislative or committee work are you most proud of participating in to date?
It is challenging to think of just one piece of work during my close-to-7 years that I am proudest of. I know the work we do on the Senate Standing Committee of Social Affairs, Science and Technology has, and is, making an important contribution to the country as for the health field. We did review the Health Accord just before it expired in 2014 and made recommendations for its renewal. And, we just completed a study on obesity which will likely have an impact on future legislation.
On the Senate Standing Committee of Official Languages, I helped pilot a study on the English-speaking minorities in Quebec. It definitely served to dispel a “mythology" about the community and is still used as an important reference work by all levels of government and community organizations.
Recently, I sponsored Bill C-17, an Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, otherwise known as ‘Vanessa’s Law.’ This bill was urgently needed to address important safety issues related to the use of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Critical was to demand corporate transparency and the public reporting of adverse reactions associated with medications approved for market. This bill will help save the lives of many Canadians.
What is a hidden gem in your region that more Canadians need to know about?
I am such a proud Montrealer, proud of the warm, animated, inclusive, and innovative spirit one can find in every corner of the city. It is this spirit that is the hidden gem, well-hidden only until one experiences the city first hand!
Can you name a guilty pleasure song / album that always makes you smile and why?
Thinking about my 10-year old grandson and his energetic enthusiasm for living always makes me smile. One of his astounding statements most recently was: “Do not follow your shadow, look to the future”!
What is the last book you read or movie you saw which you recommended to someone else and why?
These days I regularly find myself with two books on the go of the fiction and nonfiction genres. I have always enjoyed mysteries and I just finished reading Montrealer Louise Penny’s “Dead Cold” as well as "The Speechwriter" by Barton Swaim, an autobio of sorts about a writer who worked for a southern US Governor.
My movie partner is my grandson so I am somewhat captive of his taste. While on vacation at Christmas we watched the "Bridge of Spies" but I do not think he found it action-packed enough for him.
What sports team (amateur/professional) do you support?
I am a fan of all Canadian athletes. It takes a lot of discipline, time and dedication to perfect a sport. However, being a long-time hockey fan, I have always supported our Montreal Canadians.