Carolyn Bennett
Hon. Carolyn Bennett
Member of Parliament for Toronto—St. Paul's
December 12 - Final Speech in the House

Hon. Carolyn Bennett (Toronto—St. Paul's, Lib.) 

Hon. Carolyn Bennett
Hon. Carolyn Bennett
Caucus: Liberal
Constituency: Toronto—St. Paul's
Province/Territory: Ontario
 Mr. Speaker, as I rise in the House for the last time, I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
    I hope that territorial recognition will soon be included at the opening of the House every day.


    Some members, especially my karaoke friends, might have thought that I would start by singing my best karaoke version of Wind Beneath My Wings and then dedicate it to all the staff, volunteers and colleagues, or maybe I would just reiterate my advice to women in politics: no high heels and never check a bag. I hope members are not disappointed.
     I have now represented the engaged citizens of Toronto—St. Paul's for more than 26 years. It is longer than I practised medicine, and next year will be my 50th anniversary of graduating from medicine, “class of 7T4”, U of T. When I got to my 18th year in Parliament, I joked that the over 2,000 babies I had delivered could now all vote. I promise that was never the long-term strategy of “the doctor delivers”.
    After being a family doctor for over 20 years and our successful fight for the independence of Women's College Hospital, I had an unsuccessful run in provincial politics in 1995. I remember that when I was first asked to run, I answered that I know nothing about politics. The response was, “What do you think you just did? Saving Women's College Hospital was politics.”
    Whenever I visit the grade 5 classrooms, I ask the students why anyone would leave the respected profession of medicine to become a politician, which is one of the least-respected callings there is. Sometimes after much discussion, there is an answer that makes me smile: “You wanted to make a difference. You wanted to help more people.” As difficult as it was to make a decision to leave my patients, I have never regretted the choice.
    I have loved the work here in Parliament, but also the inspiration of the Toronto—St. Paul's community: the farmers' markets at Wychwood Barns and Little Jamaica; the transformation of the Spadina Museum and Casa Loma to better reflect the diversity of Toronto, ensuring that everyone feels included. I love walking in the ravines, along the Beltline Trail and being stopped by neighbours with great suggestions for building a better and fairer community, country and a sustainable planet; working on the Toronto—St. Paul's summits with Josh Matlow and Shelley Laskin; and conspiring at Aroma with my Yonge and Eglinton MP neighbours, the member for Don Valley West and the member for Eglinton—Lawrence. I am grateful to William Watson, who has been my riding president for over a decade, for his leadership, friendship and invaluable editorial skills, especially grammar and punctuation.
     As an MP, like a doctor, every day we are learning something new and helping people. In 1995, when introducing Liberal leader Lyn McLeod at a campaign event in downtown Toronto, I defined leadership as vision, values and risk-taking. I still believe that. Leadership is not defending the status quo. We have all come to this place to build an even better Canada. I am proud that from the very first day I stepped onto Parliament Hill as an MP, I have profoundly understood the responsibility and the privilege of being part of a small group of Canadians who steer the direction of the best country in the world. That has not changed in over 26 years. Every day, I come to this place still acutely aware of my responsibility to do the best I can to support the policies that are good for the most people or the people who need it most.
    In 1997, I knew that I had been elected in a bellwether riding: Roland Michener, Ian Wahn, Ron Atkey, John Roberts, again Ron Atkey, John Roberts, Barbara McDougall and Barry Campbell.
     I decided that I needed to take my family doctor's understanding of patient as partner into my my new role as an elected representative and have it shape a respectful two-way relationship with the people I was representing. The parallel was important. As a doctor, I would ask what was wrong, I would listen and then together with the patient we would make a plan. The patient knew their body best. I knew the system best. It was a partnership, with the sum greater than the parts.
    From the beginning, it was clear that the people I represented knew what was working and what was not, and they so often had impressive advice and solutions.


    I took Jane Jacobs' advice that good public policy comes when the decision-makers can keep in their mind's eye the people affected.
     I also learned from Professor Stephen Coleman, the British expert on citizen engagement, that citizens do not want to govern, but they do want to know that they have been heard. I learned from my friend Richard Allan, now in the Lords at Westminster, on the potential of e-democracy.
    Over the past few months, I have been sorting through many boxes. There are boxes from my early years in this House as chair of the subcommittee on persons with disabilities, chair of the Canada-Israel parliamentary friendship group, chair of the women's caucus twice, minister of state for public health, and in opposition, my various critic roles. From 2011 to 2015 was a life-changing experience, as Bob Rae appointed me the critic for indigenous affairs. There were boxes from my cabinet roles in this government.
    I found that the biggest box by far dealt with the ongoing theme of democratic reform. Democratic reform to me has always included four things: parliamentary reform, party reform, electoral reform and meaningful citizen engagement. The last one I call democracy between elections. It became my brand. I actually found another box at the cottage. It was research and outline for a book I began 10 years ago, “Democracy between elections: a politician's guide to listening and a citizen's guide to being heard”. I may have to get back to that.
    I have had the benefit of a posse of inspiring feminists who have kept the titanium in my spine: the late Doris Anderson, Ursula Franklin and Monique Bégin. The status quo was not okay.
    Ursula helped me understand that government must be fair, transparent and take people seriously. She warned that if we were not fair, transparent and respectful of what people had to say in our small organizations and in our political parties, why would anybody think we would govern in a serious representative democracy?
    Doris, who was chair of Fair Vote Canada, often asked if my support for electoral reform was a career-limiting move.
    Monique and my constituent, the late John Turner, were always in our corners as MPs to make sure our voices were heard. As we know, Monique and her posse of députés had been responsible for getting MPs offices in their ridings instead of just on Parliament Hill.
    In 2006, I ran for the party leadership on a platform of the urgent need for party reform. I said that we had to do things differently. No longer could we act as though we were the natural governing party. I was proud when the late Star journalist, Jim Travers, characterized my candidacy as “the reformer”.
    We need to remove the barriers to women in politics, the nomination processes and fundraising. We need to listen to the riding associations from coast to coast to coast, not just in those ridings that are considered to be winnable. Parliamentary reform will require MPs to take a less partisan approach, especially at parliamentary committees.
    The analysts at the Library of Parliament do an amazing job. We need to do everything we can to have unanimous reports, as Bill Young did with us when we had the subcommittee on persons with disabilities. Unanimous reports inform government of a consensus reached because all the members listened to the witnesses and were able to distill recommendations that would chart a way forward.
    Committees need to travel more. They need to get out across the country to be available to hear first-hand the points of view of the regions. In my experience, committee travel was where colleagues in Parliament got to know one another across party lines and find out that we actually liked one another, with maybe a few exceptions.
    Committee travel is also where we hear the stories we need to know and harvest solutions to the problems Canadians face every day. We also must insist on proper disaggregated data in all formal policy-making exercises. Stories and data; we need them both in order to deliver in our work Canada's core value: fairness.
    I hope that wherever the privilege of being an MP has taken me, I have been there to listen and learn. In order to do the best for Canada, MPs can not only represent their own ridings and understand their own regions; they also need to understand the challenges we face from coast to coast to coast. From Cape Spear to Haida Gwaii, and from Grise Fiord to Point Pelee, our complex federal system requires MPs to have a deep understanding of the needs and aspirations of every region of this country.
    I used to think that inclusive decision-making was a feminist value. I later learned that it was actually indigenous. Haudenosaunee women advised the first wave of North American feminists about the principles of indigenous leadership of asking, not telling, and how to work in a circle where everyone gets to speak.


    People may find that there is already a consensus or that people are asking for more information before they are prepared to weigh in on a decision.
    I have learned so much from extraordinary indigenous women. My fondest memories are of berry picking with Mary Simon in Kuujjuaq, tea with Maria Campbell at Gabriel's Crossing in Saskatchewan and ceremony with Sylvia Maracle at her office in Toronto. So many first nations, Inuit and Métis leaders and young people have been there to teach and correct my mistakes.
    I have described seven settler learnings, which could help all of us join on the journey of humility and reconciliation. What if we had listened to the first peoples and respected their imperative of protecting mother earth, thinking seven generations out? What if we understood the important teachings of the medicine wheel, focused on keeping people well, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, rather than relying on the medical repair shop model that I was taught in medical school? What if we were to practise the indigenous pedagogy of learning by doing, so that the land and the water themselves were the teachers of biology, chemistry and physics? What if we respected our elders instead of dismissing the elderly, if we listened to wise women and if we put children first in all decisions? What if we practised the indigenous leadership of asking, not telling? We can imagine these things.
    The foundation of our democracy is that great people will run for public office. I have had the privilege of persuading many great women and indigenous people to run. Some were elected. All affirmed the importance of our democratic institutions by leaving jobs they loved and spending time away from their families in order to campaign for the opportunity to contribute to making this country even better than it is now.
    I am a feminist and a politician. I look forward to a day where neither “feminist” nor “politician” is treated like a four-letter word. I am so proud to have served under this feminist Prime Minister, whose vision and values inspire us all. He has always been a leader, not a boss. He has always demonstrated that he knows that good ideas can come from many places. He is curious. He listens. He walks the talk of hope and hard work. He has always had my back. Every day, he shows us that better is indeed always possible.
    In election campaigns, it has been important for me to explain that the Prime Minister is a true leader, not a boss. Leaders see themselves at the centre of a circle. Bosses see themselves at the top of a pyramid, barking orders, in their singular view, to those below. “Father knows best” has never worked. The Prime Minister has vision and values, and he can take risks. I am proud that we have been able to implement the ambitious risk-taking platform of 2015, even the legalization of cannabis.
    We have changed history, but I am worried. Cynicism is at an all-time high. Voter turnout is down. The safety of parliamentarians is under threat. I truly believe that it is essential for us to re-engage in a meaningful way with citizens. Consultation that is shallow or not genuine is bad for democracy. It fuels cynicism. People are turned off by it, and then they tune out. People either believe that we get better policy when we include the views of those who will be affected by the policy, or they do not. If they do not, if they already think they know everything, then they should not waste people's time. Cynicism is also being fuelled by the ideology that proclaims that all government is bad and all politicians are bad or useless; it asks, “Why bother to vote at all?” It is wise to remember that the perma-mad people always vote.
    We need to acknowledge that democracy is fragile. We should tackle, as a priority, the proliferation of mis- and disinformation, as well as the toxicity and anonymity of social media. There are ways to protect or immunize people from the onslaught of mis- and disinformation. People's ability to perform critical appraisal is heightened by greater civic literacy, health literacy, mental health literacy and digital literacy.
    However, we must be concerned about more than mis- and disinformation. We cannot ignore that those who were once only keyboard warriors are now actually throwing stones and vandalizing, as well as threatening people in person. The safety of parliamentarians and those groups that are most often victims of hate and discrimination is at risk. At this dangerous time for democracy, it is important to remember the teaching of Ursula Franklin: Good government must be “fair, transparent and take people seriously.”


    People are truly worried about so many aspects of our world today: the economy, the environment, their future and their children's well-being and opportunity. We need to let people know their concerns are being heard and taken into account, and we need to explain government decision-making in ways that will make sense.
    As I look back, I remember how devastated I was in 2006 when we lost. We lost Kyoto, kids and Kelowna. The progress on climate change, child care and reconciliation were instantly rolled back. We had to fight back, and we did. I am proud now that Canada has made serious advances on climate change, child care and reconciliation.
    As minister responsible for public health, the TRC calls to action, MMIWG and later mental health and addictions, I hope I have been able to help government bust through the silos and address complex issues across all government departments. I believe there is a role for government in people's lives. Our complex federal system requires real relationships among all orders of government, municipal, provincial and territorial, federal and indigenous, in order to deliver effective supports and services to the people who need them most.
    In closing, I want to thank Barry Campbell for asking me to run in 1997. I want to thank the wind beneath my wings for 26 years, the EAs: Michael Spowart, Rob White and Tricia Geddes. They all came back to work in my office when I was minister of state for public health in 2003. Lynne Steele, Rick Theis, Sarah Welch and Carlene Campbell put together teams that shared our vision and values of accessibility and democracy between elections. They were always able to give fearless advice.
    These are amazing teams, and I want to thank every single one of them. They continue to work on this truly important project of democracy. Thank yous are dangerous; I do not want to leave people out. Today I wanted to thank those who have travelled with me for almost a quarter century: Mary Eberts, Bill Young, Philippe Bussy, Michel Amar, Frank Graves, Jim Anderson, Robin Sears, Susan Delacourt, Don Lenihan, Anna and Paul Brehl, Constance Backhouse, Karen Breeck, Nora Spinks, Terry Hancock, Margo Greenwood, Will Falk, Stan Kutcher and, of course, Paul Martin and Bob Rae.
    Today especially, I miss Bill Graham and Andy Scott.
    I am so grateful to all my colleagues here. Many of my friends outside politics have paid me the biggest compliment, saying that being elected did not change me. I am still Carolyn, or Dr. Carolyn to some.



    I want to thank my French teachers Géraldine, here in Ottawa, and Michel and Huguette from Logibec, in Quebec City, as well as my host family, René Courchesne and Claro Picard.
    Their love for the beauty of the French language and culture was absolutely contagious.


    Peter O'Brian is the best political spouse in the world. When graduating from college, he put “support a politician” on his bucket list. I am not sure he meant sharing these decades of ups and downs. Once, while canvassing, he asked at the door of a household in our neighbourhood if the resident wished to meet the candidate. He was told, “I would rather have my eyeballs taken out with fish hooks.” He quickly moved to become sign chair.
    As all my colleagues in the House present and past know all too well, an MP's family has lots of these fish-hook moments over the years, of all different types, intensities and durations. I am grateful for the love of my sons, Jack and Ben, and the sacrifices they have made, happily and unhappily, to allow me to serve Canada as I have for over a quarter century.
    For 26 years, I have been able to honestly reply to the critics with a question: “What country would you rather live in?” For 26 years, the answer has been the same, which is a moment of silence and then an acknowledgement that as much work as there still is to do, we are proud Canadians. I have never heard one word of other country envy.
    I will miss my amazing parliamentary colleagues. I think we remember that moment in the House this fall when President Zelenskyy from Ukraine quoted Governor General Mary Simon with a word in Inuktitut: “ajuinnata”. As he said, it means “Don't give up. Stay strong against all odds”.
    In these difficult times, I have every confidence that we will continue to fight together to make the best country in the world even better.
    MerciMeegwetch. Thank you. Ajuinnata.
    Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy heart that I rise to ask a question of my friend from St. Paul's for the last time in this House. For 15 years, we have served together in various corners of the House. For 15 years and more, she has been a source of inspiration and sound advice to me on how to be a better feminist, how to recruit extraordinary women from across this country to build the kind of government that Canada deserves and how to move forward on reconciliation.
    As Canada's first minister of Crown and indigenous relations, she blazed a trail in deepening the relationship that matters so much to all Canadians and to the future of our country. As the very first minister for mental health and addictions, she demonstrated the compassion, the perseverance and the drive that carried her through a storied career as a family doctor to have an impact on Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Even during the depths of the pandemic, I had the benefit of turning to the very first minister of state for public health and the creator of the Public Health Agency of Canada for advice on how to handle a once-in-a-century event for Canada.
    I look forward to continuing to draw on her advice in many ways, but right now, given all the things that she spoke about and all the pieces of advice that she has given to us, I guess my last question for her would be this: How do we make sure that the House has more like her, more people dedicated to this country, more young women growing up and seeing a place for themselves here and the responsibility and, therefore, the opportunity to shape this country for the better? What are the best pieces of advice that we should carry with us as we reach out to find even more extraordinary women to sit in this House, to lead and serve this country?
    Mr. Speaker, with your help, I think we have to make sure that teachers will feel that they can bring their students in here again and not just come to pick up bad habits. I also think that we all do the country a great service by getting into the grade five classrooms and putting a human face on what a politician is.
     I hope that we can move to make sure of the diversity of this place, so people can see themselves here. I think it is also similar to Equal Voice's, “Be Her or Support Her” campaign, the idea that someone does not have to actually run, but they can help with policy, fundraising or organization. There are many ways, but the project of democracy cannot be taken for granted.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her many years of service. It gives me great pleasure to comment on her very long career. As the member and I share a great love of Georgian Bay, I expect to see her spending more time there, perhaps finishing her book on democracy, which we will all take great lessons from.
    When I was first elected, I was provided advice by many people, and someone said I should get to know members in all parties. Shortly after being elected, when the member was the then minister of mental health and addictions, she reached out to me. She said I had a mental health hospital in my riding and she would love to visit it with me, which we did this past summer. We have heard the member talk about the things that she is passionate about. She has dedicated her life of public service to indigenous reconciliation, of course, as well as mental health and increasing the number of women in politics and getting women involved in politics at all different levels.
    The member had an opportunity to continue serving her community well as a doctor, but she put that aside to make thousands of Canadians' lives better through her 26 years of public service. I will not say what I was doing in 1997, or my age then, but I was not quite yet in high school. This is the length of the member's dedication to public service.
    While we may disagree on ways to make this country better, we do agree that we live in the best country on this planet and that we can work together to make it better. As I said, when opportunities arise that allow us to work together, visit institutions or work on a file, we can do great things for Canadians.
    I look forward to what is to come for the member. I know her life of service will not be over. I am sure she has other things planned to continue serving in different ways. I and all my colleagues wish the member good luck and thank her for her service.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my member of Parliament in Georgian Bay. There will be many more trips on the Georgian Bay, and I will continue to conspire with the member for his wise advice.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her speech and her years of service.
    I see that she, like me, has a passion for karaoke. Maybe we could go do karaoke together sometime and have some fun. I will take her advice about high heels to heart. In fact, I lost one of mine on the stairs earlier. We can chat about that later too.
    On a more serious note, I would like to congratulate her on her years of service. I was not very old in 1997 either, but if not for the women who came before me in politics, I would not be here today. There are still so many glass ceilings to break in this boys' club.
    I also see that we also share an obsession with democracy. I look forward to seeing what she does next. Maybe, in response to my question, she can tell me a bit more about how she perceives the issue of disinformation in our time. I would like her to tell us how this contributes to diminishing democracy, how social media and online hate sometimes contribute to deterring women from entering politics, and how excessive partisanship and petty politics can put women off a career in politics. We have a vision that is much less partisan and much more collaborative.
    Perhaps she can advise us on how women can make a greater contribution to our democracy. She may also be able to tell me how, as parliamentarians, we can help halt the further erosion of democracy. What is happening now is very worrisome.
    Mr. Speaker, I hope the future will bring opportunities to improve civic literacy as well as physical and mental health literacy. The ability to ascertain the truth is very important. It is foundational for every young person. It is important to truly hear people's concerns and, I believe, to truly hear women.


    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Toronto—St. Paul's for her years of service.
    I did not know until today that she loves karaoke. I too love karaoke. Perhaps we could have had a Broadway kickoff at a local karaoke club in Ottawa, but I am sure we will have time to do that in the coming years.
    I really appreciated the hon. member's acknowledgement of the importance of territorial recognition, the understanding that we all sit on lands that were dispossessed from indigenous peoples. I think it is foundational to reconciliation in this country to recognize the privileges that have been borne on the backs of indigenous peoples. I truly respect that.
    I thank her, as well, for the barriers she broke down for women in politics. We still do not have enough women in politics, but it is folks like the member for Toronto—St. Paul's who really broke those glass ceilings to even let us have a space in here. As we work within a new trajectory of intersectionalities, I hope, one day, to be an example, just as the member for Toronto—St. Paul's is for women, for other indigenous women who are trying to find space in a place that was never supposed to house us. I thank the member for her sacrifice.
    I am also a proud feminist. At a time when we see women's reproductive rights under threat, even in this House, with bills trying to be passed that attack women's reproductive rights, I thank her for bringing up the discussion about women's right to bodily autonomy before it was even a discussion.
    I share her concern for the threat to democracy with populist, extreme right-wing politics and a rise of white supremacy in this country, which is not just flourishing outside these walls but within these walls as well, in the House of Commons. For people who have already been marginalized by systems, that is very scary.
    I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the member for doing her best to be such a good ally to indigenous peoples through the years, taking the time to learn when needed. I want to thank her for that.
    I also want to take this opportunity to ask the member for her wisdom on how we protect democracy at a time of rising hate and what we can do to ensure that we can protect the rights of all people living in Canada going forward.


    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the ability to work with her in her riding on all of the things she cares about.
    I also thank her because, in my comments I said that thanking people was dangerous, and I now realize I forgot some of my best coaches, such as Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Steve Koptie and Michèle Audette, who should have been there in the top rung of all of this, but they have always been. Even though Cynthia ran against the distinguished members for York—Simcoe and Simcoe North, my two colleagues here, she has never stopped being there to support me and give me wise counsel
    I think part of it is to be able to instill that coaching from the very youngest age. There is a grade one teacher in my riding, just at the end of my street, who has a unit on leadership. I think that we cannot start early enough in teaching people to understand how to do a critical appraisal and what civic literacy is.
     I think of the amazing Ilona Kickbusch at the WHO, and some others who are really focused on digital literacy so that people can sort out what is true, what is not and what a bot is. How do we help people seek out those kinds of advice and truths? I am a doctor so I always talk about immunization, but we have to immunize people against this really evil threat.
    Mr. Speaker, I wish it did not take a great parliamentarian to retire to turn down the partisan temperature in this place, but it may be fitting because, in the short time I have been here, it is everything I have known of the hon. member for Toronto—St. Paul's.
    When she was the minister of mental health and addictions, she was keen to hear from me about advice on the upcoming budget and to push for a really critical program, the substance use and addictions program.
    When it came to announcing funding on behalf of the Government of Canada, when she arrived in my community, she was keen to ensure that all parliamentarians from this place were represented and supportive there. We heard it from her again this afternoon. I join colleagues in thanking her for her service to this country over the last 26 years. We are all better for it.
    One aspect of her advocacy I particularly appreciated was her advocacy for improving our democracy through electoral reform. As a parting thought, I would love to hear more from her, if she would be open to sharing with us her reflections, on how to continue to move forward on electoral reform.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the push on electoral reform. I think we are learning, as we choose our leaders and so many things on ranked ballots, that it is a good way to start in municipal politics. I have always thought, on electoral reform, that we have to start by having citizens understand it.
    In 1993, Conservatives were able to get 20-something per cent of the vote and two members, and we see that we could get a separatist government in the Province of Quebec with really less than a majority, so I think there is a risk. We have to teach that first, and then we move on to what would be the best thing to do in this huge country, from coast to coast to coast, where the land and the people are important.


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