1999 Distinguished Service Award – Hon. John Ross Matheson

The Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians presented its inaugural Distinguished Service Award to the Hon. John Ross Matheson during a ceremony in Ottawa on June 10, 1999.  The award was presented by the Speaker of the Senate, the Honourable Gildas Molgat, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Honourable Gilbert Parent, and the Chairman of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, Barry Turner, in recognition of Mr. Matheson’s years of Parliamentary service, his contribution to and respect for the institution of Parliament, and his continued interest and activity in the promotion of human welfare, human rights, and parliamentary democracy in Canada and abroad.  Mr. Matheson was the Liberal Member of Parliament for Leeds, Ontario from 1961 to 1968 and is especially known for his contribution to Canada’s Flag and the development of the Order of Canada.

Acceptance Speech

Mr. Speakers, Mesdames, Messieurs, I am very pleased to be here with you today.

After sitting as the Member for Leeds in two Parliaments in opposition and in two more on the government side I was defeated by my friend and fellow parliamentarians, Desmond Code, in a new riding in the general election of 1968.  I left the Hill grateful for the experience of being here, but with a feeling of failure and of personal inadequacy respecting my own contribution.  To be accorded this recognition today, means more to me than I can ever express.

In mankind there is a mixture of good and bad.  From a distance parliamentarians all look much alike.  They seek the truth but forget too often that to find the truth they must begin by trusting one another.  Jack Bigg, my roomate, and a longtime member for Athabaska, was a Tory who thought members needed an all-party caucus where egos would be surrendered at the door and political posturing would be set aside.  In such an atmosphere, he felt, we might identify concerns, establish national objectives and then, together, courageously, bring them to fruition.  Parliament is more than ‘a talking place’.  It is the listening post with respect to the hurtings within the land.  In these hallowed halls there are ‘no unimportant tears’.  No cry for help must go unheard.  Canada says to all her children: ‘the weakest and shallowest of you is deathless with me!’

All those who make the sacrifice to come here love this precious homeland, – vast, rugged, serene.  In different ways all seek to lay their very best gifts upon Canada’s altar.  And more beautiful, even, than Canada’s wondrous lakes and rivers and mountains and plains, are her people, in all their diversity.  Now Canada says to her children:

‘Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety,
I do not call one greater and one smaller….
I swear they are averaged now … one is no better than the other…
I swear they are all beautiful…’

It is this extraordinary diversity that enables the Maple to become the leaf of the tree that is for the healing of the nations, that allows us to actually create in this country mankind’s first experiment in brotherhood.  The surest way for us to ‘stand on guard’ for Canada, and to contribute as well to the betterment of the human race, the only race, is to prove that we respect and love one another.  Of course we all have enemies.  And the best way to defeat and destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.

Who, in 1867, could have predicted that with our differences we could make it together?  But faith has proved greater than doubt and love stronger than hate.  From inside parliament and from without we must resolve to exhibit ‘the courage to be’, and continue in the search for that ‘better country’ that has been promised.