moved that Bill S-213, An Act respecting Lincoln Alexander Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I was proud to introduce Bill S-213, an act respecting Lincoln Alexander Day, and I am pleased to rise today to speak to this bill, which would designate January 21 of each year as Lincoln M. Alexander Day in memory of a great Canadian who inspired millions of his fellow citizens.
As the member of Parliament for a constituency that includes much of Linc's former constituency when he was a member of this House, I am greatly privileged. As a parliamentarian who had the good fortune to meet Linc, talk about politics with him, and learn from his sage advice, this is indeed a great honour.
As many in the House will know, January 21 was Lincoln Alexander's birthday. As such, the designation of this day is fitting for all that he contributed to this country.
To begin, please allow me to highlight just a few of the accomplishments of this great man. He was a very popular lieutenant-governor of Ontario from 1985 to 1991. He was the MP for Hamilton West from 1968 to 1980. He was a trailblazer for visible minorities as the first black MP and cabinet minister. He was a champion of the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario. He was a chancellor at the University of Guelph.
He passed away in October, 2012, at the age of 90. He was so beloved that thousands visited as he lay in state at the Ontario legislature in Hamilton City Hall. His state funeral in Hamilton was attended by thousands of his fellow citizens, in addition to the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of Ontario, and a number of former prime ministers and premiers.
Many schools in Ontario have been named in his honour, as well as the Lincoln Alexander Parkway, which is a major expressway in Hamilton, and which I am on most days when I am back in the constituency.
Despite all of these accomplishments and many more, above all else Lincoln Alexander was a champion of young people. He was convinced that if a society did not take care of its youth, it would have no future. He also knew that education and awareness were essential in changing society's prejudices and sometimes flawed presuppositions about others. That is why it is so fitting that so many schools are named after him. He himself had been a young person who sought to make his place in his community so that he could contribute to his country.
As a young boy, Lincoln Alexander faced prejudice daily, but his mother encouraged him to be two or three times as good as everyone else, and indeed he was. Lincoln Alexander followed his mother's advice and worked hard to overcome poverty and prejudice. Through his hard work, he made a name for himself both professionally and politically.
At an early age, he experienced first-hand how hard work and education make a positive impact on life. After becoming the first in his family to attend university, Lincoln Alexander graduated from McMaster University in 1949. As a university graduate and war veteran, and having worked his summers at the Stelco steel mill in Hamilton, Lincoln hoped to join the company's sales team. However, this was not to be the case for a man of colour. This unjust attitude was, unfortunately, all too common back then.
Frustrated, Lincoln Alexander realized that self-employment made the most sense for a young black man with ambition. He decided that he would choose a line of work in which he thought that he would not be affected by people's unjust views. Pursuing further education, he enrolled in Osgoode Hall Law School.
While at Osgoode Hall, he heard the dean make a comparison using a racial slur while giving a lecture to his class. Lincoln Alexander was shocked. He stood up and asked the dean what he meant by using that slur. When the dean answered that it was just a saying that everyone was using, Lincoln Alexander responded by saying, “You’re in a position of authority, sir, a leader in the community. A leader has to lead and not be using such disrespectful comments without even thinking about them”.
He was public and outspoken in his fight for the rights of others, and in so doing, he became a spokesperson for all.
Lincoln Alexander's interest in young people came from his time as a young lawyer in Hamilton, when he took the bus to work every day. He loved the social interaction with different people from his community on the bus, and he often spoke to young people, children, high school students, and young adults. They gave him insight on the issues and concerns of young people. Hearing their stories and their enthusiasm for change, Lincoln Alexander became energized, and this laid the groundwork for his interest in social justice and the issues facing the youth of the day.
After being appointed as Queen's Counsel in 1965, Lincoln Alexander realized that politics was a way to raise awareness on the issues surrounding social injustice. He also knew that educating young people and creating programming for them was a way of eliminating barriers and building bridges in the community.
Encouraged by Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, Lincoln Alexander ran for a seat in Parliament, and in 1968 he was elected and became the first black member of Parliament in Canada. In his first speech in the House of Commons as a member of Parliament, Lincoln Alexander reminded his colleagues that as a member of Parliament, they should be engaged in the hopes, fears, disappointments, legitimate aspirations, and despair of each and every Canadian, ever mindful that involvement demands commitment in terms of actions and deeds rather than just words.
Lincoln Alexander served as a member of Parliament for 12 years until 1980. However, it was in 1985, when he became the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, that he was truly able and determined to focus his efforts on advancing the cause of young people and fighting racism.
He was very open about the need to look both internally and externally to find the answers to the problems of the day. He frequently related the difficulties he had with racism, understanding the need to be vulnerable and open to sharing experiences in order to educate.
Lincoln Alexander loved to get to know people. These exchanges fed his desire to create a unified society in which all people were equal. He listened intently to individuals who shared their experiences, good and bad, and always with genuine interest in their lives.
After losing the 2004 election, I remember meeting Linc at an event. He actually grabbed my tie and pulled me down to his face and said, “Sweet, if you want to serve the people and win an election, you have to work hard”.
As Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Lincoln Alexander visited over 250 schools. During every visit, he spoke to students and promoted the importance of education. He stressed the need to work with young people and spread the anti-racism message. He wanted to teach young people to be proud of their heritage, reminding them that we are all equal. He instructed them to stand up for themselves and do what is right.
After his term as Lieutenant Governor, Lincoln Alexander became chancellor of the University of Guelph in 1991. He was the university's longest-serving Chancellor, serving for an unprecedented five terms, until 2007.
Lincoln Alexander carried on his natural rapport with students and made a point of speaking to each and every graduate. Robert McLaughlin, vice-president of alumni affairs at the University of Guelph, said, “When you meet him and when he looks at you and shakes your hand, you think that he has waited his whole life to meet you. You have his undivided attention”.
Lincoln Alexander prided himself on promoting education, equality, and fairness. He believed in promoting leadership and in investing in our young people, and as chancellor at the University of Guelph, he had a perfect platform to do just that.
In honour of his leadership and dedication, in 1993 the Government of Ontario established the Lincoln M. Alexander Award. This award, reflecting Lincoln Alexander's vision, recognizes young people who have demonstrated exemplary leadership in ending racial discrimination.
Through his determination and his strength in life and leadership, Lincoln Alexander paved roads and opened doors for today's young people. Using his good judgment, tolerance, compassion, and humanity, he worked tirelessly to instill these values in young people and to improve race relations throughout the country. His efforts were aimed at encouraging individuals to never give up, and he offered himself as an example of someone who never backed down.
That is why this bill is before us today. May Lincoln MacCauley Alexander's persistence and resolve in breaking down social barriers and promoting the importance of educating our young people be remembered by all Canadians through the recognition of January 21 each year as Lincoln Alexander Day.