That, in the opinion of the House, the government should recognize the important contributions that Irish-Canadians have made to building Canada, and to Canadian society in general, and should mark the importance of educating and reflecting upon Irish heritage and culture for future generations by declaring the month of March as Irish Heritage Month.
Madam Speaker, 2020 has been a year we will all remember. It has been a year that at times brought us together and a year that challenged us as a nation in ways that we never thought possible. It is always great to find a way to come together in the chamber and it is my hope that this motion will be one of those cases, a sentiment that has become more important within the last hour.
Today I ask the House for its support for my motion to recognize the month of March as Irish heritage month. I am grateful that the hon. member for Saskatoon—Grasswood, the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles as well as the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona will speak today. Of course, I would like to thank my colleague from Long Range Mountains who hails from Newfoundland, which is about as close to Ireland as one can get without actually being there.
To start and to be clear, this is not a motion to celebrate Irish ancestry as we do on March 17. Rather, it is a motion to recognize the many contributions that Canadians of Irish descent have made in building this country into what it is today. It is to ask the Parliament of Canada to say thanks and to recognize how much they have contributed. This is not to say they do not know, but it is to say that while making these many contributions, the Irish community has displayed a level of modesty that I wish to recognize and thank. They carry the pride of knowing how much they have contributed and I want them to know we know it too.
Throughout this speech, I will do my best to make this point by talking about my country, my city, my family and my friends. We are a country of immigrants. One of those immigrant communities is the Irish and it is one from which everyone knows I come. There are so many stories to choose from across the country, but I will speak briefly about my own.
In 1840, three brothers, Patrick, Michael and James, arrived in Canada. They settled in a beautiful place not far from here called Mount St. Patrick in the heart of the Ottawa valley. My father spoke fondly of visiting many times a place called Maloney Mountain. I never made it there with my dad, which I will always regret.
Then three years ago St. Patrick's Parish celebrated its 175th anniversary and I went at the invitation of my friend Rob Jamieson. It was a special occasion. I saw Maloney Mountain and found the resting place of those three brothers. Those brothers were my ancestors and my father was clearly proud of his heritage, because he has three sons who he named Patrick, Michael and the hon. member for Etobicoke Lakeshore.
I am far from alone in having Irish heritage. According to the latest census data, over 4.6 million Canadian residents lay claim to an Irish ethnic connection. This is 14% of our total population, higher even than the proportion of Irish Americans in the U.S. The influence of Irish heritage in Canada and the depth of the Irish's affinity with Ireland is the pre-eminent factor in Ireland’s successful nurturing of its relationship with Canada over decades. Our Irish population almost matches Ireland itself.
A number of high-profile Canadians have been actively involved over the years in the Irish peace process, including General John de Chastelain, former chief of the defence staff, and former police ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Al Hutchinson. Other notable Canadians who contributed to the peace process include Lord Justice Hoyt, Professor Clifford Shearing and Mr. Justice Peter Cory.
Many Canadians of Irish ancestry form part of the Canadian political establishment, too many to name here, but some of them are here. They represent all parties and some have risen to great heights. I think of our former finance minister, the late Jim Flaherty. Two current cabinet members regularly remind me that they have Irish blood flowing through their veins. Former prime ministers Paul Martin, Brian Mulroney and our current Prime Minister come from Irish heritage, a fact I validated on a trip to Dublin just three years ago. Of course, I have to mention one of Canada's founding fathers, D’Arcy Thomas McGee.
Ireland and Canada share the same values. We have a long history of promoting democratic values and human rights. Over the years we have co-operated closely in these areas at the UN and elsewhere, both in challenging times for global democracy and political stability and during times of great peace.
The political friendship between our two countries is strong. Just last week, I had a call in my capacity as chair of the Canada-Ireland Interparliamentary Group with my Irish counterpart. We discussed the ways in which we could safely explore how to strengthen our bond in the COVID environment and after. Our economic relationship is strong because of CETA and our own bilateral economic agreements.
I would like to say a few words on that, because the economic ties are important, just as the cultural and historic bonds that exist between us are strong. CETA is eliminating tariffs. In the first year of its provisional operation, prior to COVID-19, trade between Canada and Ireland increased by one-third.
Ireland presents a great opportunity for Canadian business and investment in the coming years, and it is the perfect gateway to the 450 million people in the European Union. The number of jobs provided by Canadian companies in Ireland has grown by 25% since 2018, and the number of new Canadian companies expanding into Ireland has more than doubled since Brexit was passed. Well, we think it has passed.
We have been in Ireland a long time. The first Canadian company in Ireland was Canada Life in 1903. With over a century of Canadian investment in Ireland, other notable Canadian companies in Ireland include Couche-Tard, Brown Thomas, Irving Oil and Air Canada, to name a few.
As far as Ireland in Canada, the value of Ireland’s trade surplus to Canada is over $2.1 billion. Canada is Ireland’s 12th largest trade partner and the fourth largest outside of the EU, and, as of the end of 2018, the stock of Canadian Direct Investment Abroad in Ireland reached almost $15 billion, ranking Ireland as the 10th largest destination for direct investment abroad.
We have a blue skies agreement: currently Aer Lingus, WestJet, Air Canada and Air Transat operate daily flights between the two countries. We have a treaty for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and capital gains.
Cultural collaborations are endless. In 2021, Ireland and Canada will make a joint application for UNESCO heritage status for the Valentia Island cable station and the cable station in Heart's Content, Newfoundland. These sites mark where the first successful transatlantic cable was laid in 1867, thus revolutionizing global communications.
We have an Ireland-Canada co-production treaty to encourage the co-development of audiovisual content between producers from Canada and Ireland, signed in Ottawa in 2017. I had the honour of being there.
Our roots run deep and go back in time. It is no secret that Canada became a refuge for Irish immigrants from 1830 onward. The immigration started at a time when major cholera and smallpox epidemics were prevalent. Ships flying the flag of disease were forced to dock at the quarantine station on Grosse Île, downriver from Quebec City.
Many Quebeckers were eager to help the Irish in their hour of need. Doctors, nurses and Montreal’s Grey Nuns volunteered to treat sick arrivals, risking their own lives in the process. For many Irish immigrants, it would be their only glimpse of the new land. In 1847, 50 people a day died of typhus.
Many children whose parents died were adopted into French-Canadian families, but their Irish names lived on: Doyle, Murphy, Ryan and Johnson. Their descendants are among the 40% of Quebeckers who claim Irish ancestry.
Another Canadian destination was Toronto. During the summer of 1847, almost 100,000 migrants left Ireland with over 38,000 arriving in Toronto, which had a population of 20,000 at that time. Members should think about that: almost double the population arrived on the shores of Toronto over a period of a few months. Toronto opened its arms to those immigrants.
Dr. George Grasett and his team set up hospitals, or fever sheds as they came to be known, and provided essential medical services. In doing so, Dr. Grasett and many other Canadian nurses, doctors and hospital orderlies lost their own lives when they contracted typhus.
The Ireland Park Foundation remembered the legacy of kindness with Dr. George Grasett Park, which will open in Toronto in 2021. I was proud to be part of advocating for that project. This is in addition to Ireland Park, which was established earlier with the support of the Canadian and Irish governments. Both of these commemorative sites were built by the Irish community, and I want to thank Robert Kearns in particular.
Working-class Irish immigrants soon became the largest ethnic group in almost every city in Canada. It was not always easy. They faced challenges, as all newcomers do. These challenges were racial, religious and economic, but they persevered. It is a testament to their strength and values. There is no shortage of evidence in every province and every town.
They found work building many of our country’s iconic landmarks. Irish immigrants helped to build the Rideau Canal, the Lachine Canal and Saint Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal, as well as the colourful heritage buildings of St. John’s, Newfoundland, just to name a few. Approximately 14,000 Irish citizens moved to Canada each year during the last recession, whether on a temporary or more permanent basis.
Irish-inspired events occur across the country and include the Féile Séamus Creagh music festival in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
The month of March in Toronto is busy to say the least. Most people think that March madness is a basketball tournament. I assure everyone, they are referring to Toronto in March. The month starts with the raising of the Irish flag at Toronto City Hall. The community comes in droves, again not to put on party hats and green sweaters. They are there to remember all those who worked so hard to give them the opportunity they now have.
The Irish person of the year then kicks things off, celebrating a person from the Irish community who has been leader dedicated to the benefit of others. With well over 1,000 people, the Ireland Funds lunch, another event, is the world’s largest Irish luncheon. There are the parades, of course, and those are too many to mention, but I do want to give a shout-out to my friend Shaun Ruddy who has not just kept the Toronto parade alive, but thriving.
The Irish Canadian Immigration Centre welcomes all new arrivals to this day and is named after the late, and truly great, Eamonn O’Loghlin. The Toronto Irish Players theatre group also makes sure that the Irish culture is preserved and shared with the rest of our community.
The folk music of Canada owes a great debt to musicians of Irish descent, particularly in Newfoundland, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In fact, most Canadian folk songs take their inspiration from centuries-old Irish tunes and follow Irish verse patterns. Alan Doyle, of Great Big Sea fame, is just one example of a Canadian musician who can claim Irish roots. Stompin’ Tom Connors, Denny Doherty of The Mamas and the Papas, Leahy and the Next Generation Leahy all came from families of Irish descent.
Radio programs keep the spirit alive and help maintain the strong link between our two great nations. In Toronto, Ken Tracey and Mark O’Brien nurse us through Saturday mornings and Hugo Straney raises our spirits early on Sunday.
St. Patrick’s Day is a statutory holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador, but this day commemorating Irish contributions is held throughout Canada every year. Canada is home to many celebrations on March 17, one of the most prominent being Montreal’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, the oldest of its kind in North America.
The point is that Irish heritage month is not about green beer, funny hats or shamrocks. It is about honouring the close bond between our two countries that is deep in our past. It is about celebrating a bright future between our two countries. I simply do not have enough time today to cover it all, but there will be a second reading.
There are several people I need to thank for getting me here today and helping me along the way with my own Irish awakening. Recently, and locally, I would like to thank our Irish ambassadors. Ray Bassett welcomed me upon my election in 2015. Jim Kelly stewarded me through the past four years. Together, we created the annual Irish Night on Parliament Hill. This never would have happened without his guidance and support. Today, we are grateful to welcome ambassador Eamonn McKee. These men arrive here as ambassadors to Canada and leave here as great friends to our country and to many who live here. Of course, then there is Ethna Heffernan, the grande dame of the Irish community of Toronto.
I have mentioned my own family who, like me, are proud of their Irish heritage, like my brothers, along with Kaitlyn, Brogan, Keira and Teigan, who are my nieces and nephew. Last and not least are my in-laws. I want to mention Eddie, my father-in-law. He is the epitome of all things Irish. He is kind. He is generous. He is funny. He is modest and he is proud of his Irish heritage. He is also a source of wisdom. He always reminds me that if someone does not know where they are going, any road will take them there. There are people who are players in our community and there are people who are spectators. I can assure members that Eddie Brett is a player, not a spectator.
Every Irish dad wants their Irish offspring to find an Irish partner. Well, Dad, I did that and she is the best. Deirdre Brett is more than that. She is my friend and my anchor. I am lost without her.
It is clear to me that this country would not be what it is today without the great contribution from our Irish community, both past and present. In true Canadian fashion, they love the country where they were born and they love the country in which they chose to build a new life. I stand here today to in this chamber to say thanks as a profoundly grateful person of Irish heritage.
Again, I ask this House and all its members to support this motion, and as an expression of that gratitude, to declare the month of March from this point forward as Irish heritage month in Canada.