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Hon. David Onley

December 06 2012 , 12:00PM
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Mr Chummar, Ms Perry, Mr Morris, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et messieurs:

As Honorary Vice President of the Empire Club of Canada, I am pleased to be back with you for this year’s luncheon.

And it is always a pleasure to see students taking part in the Christmas luncheon—a Toronto tradition that will mark its centennial next year.

By any measure, this was a remarkable year for celebrating traditions.

It included several significant anniversaries, each of which speaks to Canadian values.

In celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, for example, we honoured a monarch who has committed her life to the service of her people.

It was a commitment she made clear even before she ascended the throne sixty years ago.

In 1947, the young Princess Elizabeth made a broadcast to the Commonwealth from Cape Town, declaring:

“My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”

Service to others is a Canadian value that can be traced back to the pioneers.

They could not have survived in a hostile climate without the help of others—both First Nations and fellow-settlers.

Even in this fast-paced modern age, the ideal of service is still alive and well in our society.

It lives in the men and women who work as police officers, firefighters, teachers, social workers and healthcare professionals.

We see it in those who come together to work for social change, housing for the homeless, justice for the wrongly accused, and independence for people living with disabilities.

And it thrives in those who volunteer in support of important causes, be it raising funds for cultural and charitable work, coaching their children’s sports teams, or serving on committees to improve our schools, hospitals and other institutions.

Indeed, when we look at our history, we see that service to others has enriched Canadian life beyond measure.

It is the ideal to which we owe our earliest hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the aged and indigent, not to mention some of our best known voluntary institutions.

The YMCA, St John’s Ambulance Association, the Canadian Red Cross, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and the Empire Club of Canada, are just some that immediately spring to mind.

The second anniversary of note this year was the Bicentennial of the War of 1812.

Although often perceived as a military clash between British and American values, the War of 1812 resulted in the settlers of Upper Canada accepting the twin ideas that they were Canadians, not Americans, and their loyalties lay with the Crown.

The seeds of national pride were sown in the War of 1812 and fed by the people’s pride in Isaac Brock, Laura Secord and the Loyalist militia, and they bloom in the trenches of the Great War.

The Canadian Corps’ achievements in that conflict, especially at Vimy Ridge, encouraged Canadians to see their homeland as a nation, rather than a colony.

And it established the concept of military service, whether in war or on peacekeeping missions, as an integral and widely admired Canadian value.

Another cause for celebration this year was the 30th Anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In marking this particular milestone, we paid tribute to a Canadian value of respect for the rights of others that can be traced back through John Graves Simcoe to 13th century England and Magna Carta.

As the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, Simcoe introduced into the new province in 1792 such institutions as the courts, trial by jury, English common law, and freehold land tenure.

And it was Simcoe whose landmark legislation began the process that would make Upper Canada the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to abolish slavery—a distinction of which we can all be proud.

2012 has also been an interesting year for me, on a personal level. I had the opportunity to take part in some exciting events, including two overseas trips.

Last August, I had the privilege of representing the people of Ontario at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

They were a huge success, the largest and most successful games since the first international Summer Games, held in Rome in 1960.

A record 4,000 plus athletes from more than 160 countries took part. Over 2.7 million tickets were sold, and venues were packed.

More than 250 world records were set, and extraordinary athletic performances created an unprecedented level of interest among the general public.

I came home from London convinced more than ever of the positive effect Parasports can have on public perceptions of disability.

The 2012 Paralympics were not just a sporting spectacle of the highest calibre.

They also created a powerful legacy, by demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that these Games were not about disability.

What people saw were not disabled people who were athletes, but athletes who just happened to have a disability.

I have every expectation that the same will be true of the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games.

My other overseas trip was to Jamaica last month.

I was invited there by the Jamaican government to speak at the inaugural Disability Friendly Awards Gala.

It was a spectacular event organized by the Jamaica Council of Persons with Disabilities, in collaboration with the Jamaican Consul General in Toronto, George Ramocan and his wife Dr. Lola Ramocan.

The gala was held under the patronage of the governor general of Jamaica, with the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, as a featured speaker.

While I was in Jamaica, I took the opportunity to meet people and organizations involved in improving accessibility and overall quality of life for Jamaicans living with disability.

It was a sobering and informative experience.

Jamaica was the first country in the world to ratify the United Nations Convention on Persons with Disability, and claims to be the accessibility leader in the Caribbean.

But many of their facilities for people with disabilities are rundown, with materials and equipment nowhere near Canadian standards.

However, their hearts and minds are determined to achieve an accessible society.

Through legislation to be introduced in Parliament next year, the government is committed to, in the words of the Prime Minister, “promoting, protecting and facilitating full and equal fundamental rights and freedoms for persons with disabilities.”

I hope that I can facilitate some future interaction for disability organizations in Jamaica with similar organizations here. I believe there is much we can learn from each other.

The trip to Jamaica was a heartening reminder of the progress we have made towards accessibility here in Ontario.

Even so, there is still some way to go to achieve full accessibility—especially in the area of employment.

But I also know that we have come thus far due to another Canadian value: the refusal to let the status quo stand in the way of progress towards accessibility and equality.

And at this Christmas time, I can think of no better way to honour the spirit of this blessed season than by renewing our commitment to the less fortunate among us whether it be through disability, poverty or the misfortunes of life.

I wish as well, to send heartfelt greetings to the men and women of Canada’s military and diplomatic forces serving around the world, and to their families here at home.

And I thank the Empire Club of Canada for inviting me to speak to you today.

Au nom de la Reine, et au nom de tous les Ontariens et Ontariennes, je vous souhaite un joyeux Noël et une heureuse nouvelle année.

In the name of The Queen, and on behalf of all Ontarians, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.