Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 146, Issue 60

Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker


The Late Honourable Sheila Finestone, P.C.

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to the late Honourable Sheila Finestone, a person who I always thought of as a special friend.

What I admired about Sheila was her courage to work on issues she truly believed in, even if she knew they were issues that needed convincing and persuasion. My best memory of her was when she would say:

At my age, if you think I’m going to start shutting up, forget it.

As a member of the executive of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women from 1975 to 1980, she dedicated her time to change the lives of vulnerable women. As a director of youth protection for Jewish Family Services and a founder of Project Genesis, which provides legal and other services for those in need, Sheila demonstrated early on in her life how important the trials and tribulations of others were to her.

When Sheila assumed her role as a member of Parliament in 1984, she knew the footsteps left by Prime Minister Trudeau in Mount Royal required her to walk in big shoes. As those of us who had the privilege to work with her in this chamber know, she not only wore those shoes but made them her own.

Sheila continued the cause of women when first elected to the House of Commons, proclaiming in her first speech:

The government risks the charge that its attention to the significant concerns of Canadian women is little more than tokenism, for it excludes them from the heart of policy-making.

Sheila Finestone knew the virtues and importance of bridging gaps between different groups of women and cultures. She understood that the critical importance involved in the idea of democracy was to contribute to it, ensuring many different groups a place and a voice in society. I know she included us all in her deliberations.

As a member of Parliament, Sheila dispensed great energy in her multicultural, multilingual riding of Mount Royal. Her popularity among her constituents was no more evident than during her election campaign in 1993, when she retained her seat with a margin of 36,000 votes. After this election, Sheila continued to serve the causes of women and multiculturalism as the first Secretary of State, Status of Women, and Multiculturalism.

Upon her appointment to this chamber in 1999, she continued to campaign not only for a better Canada, but for a better world. A believer in the International Court and an active campaigner to ban the use of land mines, she echoed the sentiments of a waiting world hoping for peace.

Her position as Deputy Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights afforded her the opportunity to steer the debate in a direction where a majority would benefit.

When Sheila left the Senate and us, she left a vacuum in this chamber. Now that she has gone to a better place, she has left a void in our lives.