During a ceremony in Ottawa on June 3, 2002, in recognition of his many years of public service, the Hon. Daniel Hays, Speaker of the Senate, the Hon. Peter Milliken, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Barry Turner, Chair of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, presented the Association’s fourth Distinguished Service Award to the Hon. John M. Reid, a former Liberal Member of Parliament who represented the Northern Ontario riding of Kenora—Rainy River from 1965 to 1984.
In 1963, Mr. Reid became the Special Assistant to the Minister of Mines and Technical Affairs. In 1965 he was elected to the House of Commons as the youngest person elected in that Parliament, where he served from 1965 to 1984, through six elections. Among other duties, Mr. Reid served as Chairman of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Broadcasting, Film and Assistance to the Arts (1969 to 1972); Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Privy Council (1972 to 1975); Minister of Federal-Provincial Relations (1978 to 1979) and Chairman of the House of Commons Committee on Procedure and Organization. From 1981 to 1984 he was Co-chairman, Canadian Group, of the Canada – U.S. Parliamentary Association.
As Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Reid was charged with improving the flow of requested information to MPs. This led him to join forces with Jedd Baldwin, M.P., to work for a general right of access to government-held records for all Canadians. Out of their efforts came a report on information and privacy of the Scandinavian countries, a series of Committee hearings, the first Access to Information Bill introduced by Walter Baker in 1979, culminating in the current Access to Information Act, introduced by Francis Fox in 1983.
In 1984, he started John Reid Consulting, a public policy and government affairs consulting business. He also became the part-time Executive Director of the Forum for Young Canadians, a position he held for 5 years. From 1987 to 1990, he held the position of Founding Chairman for the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians.
Mr. Reid was the President of the Canadian Nuclear Association in Toronto from 1990 to 1995. In 1996, he represented Canada as a senior member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe (OSCE) Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a member of the Provisional Election Commission with responsibility for the writing of an Election Act and its implementation. In 1997, he joined the United Nations Transitional Administration in Eastern Slovenia (Southern Croatia), where he was Political Advisor to the Chief Electoral Officer.
On July 1, 1998, Mr. Reid began his seven-year term as Canada’s Information Commissioner.
“Mr. Chairman, Mr. Speaker of the House, Mr. Speaker of the Senate, families of the bereaved, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank the members of the association who have so kindly given this award to me.
“When I started work on setting up the association, it was almost as if it was therapy for myself, having been defeated in the election of 1984. I owe Mr. McGrath of Newfoundland, who is not here but who was head of the parliamentary committee looking into the reform of parliament in the first year of the Mulroney government, for the opportunity to do this. He and his associate, Mr. Holtby, had discovered a speech I had made a number of years before in which I said there ought to be an association of former members of the parliament. There was nobody more surprised than I when they came for with a speech that said “You go do it.”
“Mr. Speaker Bosley of the House of Commons and the Speaker of the Senate provided me with the wherewithal to go about and do it. It was a co-operative venture of all political parties. We worked very hard. It is amazing for me to see how that a little seed has germinated and become such and important organization.
“When I came to Parliament in 1965, I was given four pieces of advice and a challenge. The first piece of advice came from a very strong supporter of mine in the constituency, Luke Francis, who was head of one of the unions in the pulp and paper business. His advice was “John, learn procedure. That’s how we union leaders do it. We learn procedure, we learn to have hard bums and we learn to sit long hours”. When I got here that is what was needed, the ability to sit long hours.
“When I came to Parliament I looked around to see what it was I could do and I did find that there was openings in the procedure business because procedure is not what members of Parliament are particularly interested in. What they are interested in is an opportunity to get up, find and audience, say their piece and try to do what they came to Parliament to do.
“The second piece of advice came from my mentor, Bill Benidickson, and later Senator Benidickson. He hired me as a starving impecunious university student who came to Ottawa to write a PhD thesis on Mackenzie King and Sir Robert Borden. He and my father were political associates. My father, when he knew I was coming here, told me to call on Mr. Benidickson which I did and he promptly offered me a job.
“I looked at that and said that I had to do my thesis because at some point I had to earn a living. I worked half days for him and gradually I found after about three weeks that so I converted and became a full time assistant to him. He made certain that I had an opportunity to learn about politics.
“When I was elected he called me into his office and said “My bit of advice is this. I have noticed there are two kinds of members of Parliament. There are those who do their own things and there are those who kowtow to the powers that be. My experience is that those who do their own things and do them well and have something useful to say, the do as well, if not better than, those who kowtow. This way you will always sleep well at night”. I always slept well at night in my political career.
“The other bit of advice came from Jean-Luc Pepin. Jean-Luc spoke at the meeting at which I was nominated. He caught me walking in the halls of Parliament on day before the House has met and said “Well Reid, you look pretty proud of yourself. You are all stuffed up”. I said “Yeah I guess I am”. He said “I am going to give you a bit of advice. You won’t know why you got elected and you won’t know why you got defeated”. I thought that was pretty strange, because I thought I knew why I got elected. I was young handsome and single.
“It was only after Jean-Luc himself was defeated in the election of 1974 that I understood the advice. I had a chat with him when he came back after that election which he lost by 25 votes. I said “Aren’t you going to fight this?” He said “No, the electorate has made a decision. Why they made it I don’t know, but I am going to get on with my life because there is no sense feeling sorry for myself”. That proved to be very good advice because when I was defeated that was the approach I took.
“The other bit of advice came from an old member of Parliament, a Liberal from Timiskaming, Joe Habel. In those politically incorrect days, Joe would sit behind the curtains smoking the longest cigars I had ever seen in my life. He listened to every debate. He was there all the time. He sat there and he listened and he interpreted.
“I can recall being there on night when the government was taking a terrible pounding from the opposition. Joe was sitting there puffing away on his cigar. I was getting more and more agitated. I up to him and said “Joe, this is just terrible. We are getting beaten to a pulp out there. Our enemies are taking us over”. He said “Now just relax. You have to understand something. Those people across the way are Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. They are doing what they are supposed to do. On the other hand, your enemies are all around you on this side of the House”. That proved to be a useful bit of information too from time to time.
“The challenge came from the whip’s office when I went in to find out if I could get an office that would be sufficiently prestigious for the member for Kenora – Rainy River. As I was negotiation this very delicate situation with the whip’s office, one of the junior whips came in and said to me “Well Reid, are you going to be a talker or a doer? Are you going to get re-elected or are you going to get defeated the next time?” I asked “How can you tell with what I do here whether I will be re-elected or defeated?” He said “It is easy. Here is my list. These are the talkers. These are the people who went into the House and talked the most”. He had a list of 19 members, 18 of whom had been defeated. One had been re-elected and had gone into the cabinet. That was Joe Greene. He said “Our motto around here is that if you are a talker, you won’t be around much but you will leave a big fat Hansard behind. But if you understand what you are doing, you may get back”. I tried to follow the middle ground on that.
“The last big influence on me was the constituency; I had a constituency that was the largest in Ontario. It was 50,000 square miles when I started and it ended at about 150,000. My riding kept expanding all the time and the number of people kept expanding. I spent an enormous amount of time out there.
“As a result, the put enormous pressure on my family because politics has it’s corrosive elements. One of the corrosive elements is the amount of time you have to spend in what is essentially a people operation in a large rural constituency. I would not have been able to do what I did had it not been for my wife who not only loved me, but who also kept my feet to the fire to make sure I didn’t think too highly of myself and to ensure I paid much attention to her and our family.
“When I got the call to accept this award, I was quite surprised. I began to think what is the legacy I leave behind me in the House of Commons. The more I thought of that, the more I could not think of anything. What I did think was that any legacy I have is a joint legacy I have with my wife, and that is our four children of whom I am immensely proud.